Over 100 years ago, thousands of would-be prospectors headed north to the Yukon in search of gold, and the tradition continued earlier this month when Trail Smoke Eaters staff journeyed to Whitehorse, Yukon’s capital, mining for of a different kind of bounty.
Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Cam Keith, director of hockey and business operations Craig Clare, and operations manager Steve Robinson made the trip north where they evaluated about 60 players over the three-day spring camp and came away impressed with the talent and richer for the experience.
“We 100 per cent want to come back,” Robinson told the Whitehorse Star. “Overall the talent level was higher than we expected.”
For the Smoke Eaters, the northern foray was to scout out a largely untapped talent source and identify potential players not only for the BCHL team, but for the Major Midget Kootenay Ice and the KIJHL’s Beaver Valley Nitehawks as well.
“We didn’t know what to expect, but we already knew there were some players up there, and that’s one of the reasons why we wanted to go there,” said Clare. “We did a little bit of research and not a lot of teams went there – and when I say not a lot – no one.”
The camp consisted of a Pee Wee, Bantam, and Spring Camp age groups with a scout from the Nitehawks also in attendance. The younger groups focused on drills to enhance their skills, but for the older groups it was full-on scrimmage for three straight days.
“We had three different groups, and it was competitive,” said Clare. “All in all the talent level was good, we found some new prospects, and we’ll probably be inviting a couple to main camp here.”
For players growing up and playing hockey in the Yukon’s isolated communities, a lack of competition and exposure to junior and college scouts pose a very real disadvantage. By running the camp, the Smoke Eaters offered players a rare and exciting opportunity.
“A lot of these players, they are just looking for an opportunity, because not a lot of opportunities come to them, they have to work pretty hard for it. I think it worked really well, we got a lot of support from Yukon minor hockey and the Whitehorse players.”
Hockey Yukon president Carl Burgess told the Star that the Smoke Eater Camp was a good opportunity for the boys to see how the prospects camp (for birth years 1998 to 2002) works.
“It takes the mystique out of it when it’s their turn,” said Burgess.
The Smoke Eaters also viewed its first trip north as a learning experience. Changing the date so it doesn’t coincide with the May long weekend, adding a goalie session, and facilitating and increasing players attendance from other northern communities in Alaska and N.W.T. are on the list.
“I think it was a little bit of trial and error,” added Clare. “They were feeling us out to see what kind of camp we’d put on, and it went very well, and the response we got back was very positive. I think early in the season we’ll be putting in plans to head back up.
“It was good for us to go up there and see. You get locked into the Lower Mainland and Alberta and Saskatchewan, and the Kootenay, which we will always be (locked in), but to see what’s out there is great.”