Elite Yukon team first step in Whitehorse hockey academy

Every year, young Yukoners leave their homes to pursue their dreams of a career in professional hockey in southern communities. This year, though, a homegrown option is offering a different path.

Organizers hope to keep more promising young Yukon players at home

The Under 16 Mustangs were formed this year as an option for promising young Yukon hockey players who want to stay in the territory to pursue their hockey dreams. (Dave Croft/CBC)

Every year, young Yukoners leave their homes to pursue their dreams of a career in professional hockey in southern communities.

Many have had no choice because elite teams for their age group have not existed in the North, but that changed this year in Whitehorse with the creation of an elite under-16 team.

Hockey Yukon says the new team is meant to serve what it calls "high end talent" in northern Canada and Alaska.

Coach Martin Lawrie says, for Yukon elite players in the 13 to 15 age range, they can stay in the territory for an extra year or two instead of going south to develop as hockey players.
Coach Martin Lawrie says the new team is great for players who don't want to leave and their parents who don't want them to go. (Dave Croft/CBC)
"[They're] living at home, living with mom and dad, staying with their friends they grew up with for an extra year so I think that's a huge piece of it for sure," says Lawrie. 

"My oldest boy went away last year at 15 and that was too young so I'm glad I get to keep the younger one here for the extra year before he heads off chasing his dream," he says.

15-year-old Bryce Anderson, of Whitehorse, checked out a couple of teams and schools in the south before deciding to stay in Yukon for at least one more year.

Fifteen year old Bryce Anderson chose to remain in Whitehorse this year instead of one of the southern communities he scouted earlier in the year. (Dave Croft/CBC)
He says the extra training time available in Yukon lets him polish his skills a bit more before leaving.

"After seeing the amount of ice time, the amount of time we have dryland and stuff like that, another year with the family, for sure, it's awesome," he says.

Hopes for a Whitehorse academy

Minor hockey organizers in Yukon hope the new team is just the beginning of a much bigger project.

They want Whitehorse to join the growing number of Canadian communities hosting hockey academies, says Russ Smoler, the president of Hockey Yukon.

Several players from across the North tried out this year, with two from Smithers, in northern B.C., making the cut.

"I think it's an opportunity for our own northern kids whether they're from Whitehorse, the Yukon communities, we've invited Inuvik, N.W.T., and Yellowknife over, again a northern opportunity...for Whitehorse as a destination for hockey as well," Smoler says.

He says the benefit of attracting more kids from across the North is there will be more high-calibre players in Whitehorse and better competition.