Story by Kelly McGuinness
Player development is a huge part of Hockey Manitoba’s U-16 Program of Excellence; it’s one of the reasons the team exists. But for a player to make the team, there are many things they need to excel at to make the final cut.
Currently the team has 25 players vying to make the team. By Monday, the final roster will hold 20. Interestingly, 7 of the remaining 25 players come from the northwest regions, nowhere near the province’s largest urban areas of Winnipeg or Brandon. And all of them have been drafted by a Western Hockey League team.
Koby Morrisseau F, Grandview (Spokane 9th, Overall)
Dawson Barteaux D, Foxwarren (Regina, 14th Overall)
Noah Geekie F, Strathclair (Calgary, 42nd Overall)
Layne Toder D, Elkhorn (Calgary 85th Overall)
Lane Kirk D, Swan River (Prince Albert, 96th Overall)
Justin Nachbaur F, Cross Lake (Prince Albert, 142nd Overall)
Mackenzie Belinski F, (Vista (Regina, 155th Overall)
Belonging to the Yellowhead, Parkland and Norman regions of Hockey Manitoba, none of them have attended a sports school such as Minnesota’s Shattuck-St. Mary’s, whom the remaining 25 players are playing this weekend in a three game series.
Assistant Coach of the U16 Program of Excellence, Darren Webster, looks to those standing behind the rural kids’ benches as to why they’ve almost made his final roster.
“Of course I’m going to say this because I’m a coach, but they’ve all had good coaching all the way up. It starts first from minors all the way to summer hockey. They’ve had guidance and they’re smart players.”
Craig Geekie, former head coach to Barteaux, Morriseau, Toder and his son Noah Geekie coming from the Yellowhead region, also believes this is simply just a special crop of talent”
“These kids are little higher skilled than kids in the past.”
“I look at where these kids are at now compared to where I was at at the same age, and they’re head and shoulders above the level of skill that I had back then. In every aspect: skating, strength, hockey IQ, everything.”
Speaking of skills, Webster notices at least two major difference the out-of-towners possess.
“I would say what separates them is their smarts and their skating. They see the game differently. They make plays and are great skaters. A lot more skill work goes in. instead of teaching them systems and technicals. They have to be skilled if they want to compete against Winnipeg and surrounding area (players)“.
Ditto for Geekie, who has coached some of these kids since they were 10 years old.
“Skating is number one. If you’re not a good skater it’s tough to play. Handling the puck is huge too.”
The final U-16 Team Manitoba roster will be announced with a press conference on Monday, October 5, 2015 in conjunction with the Western Hockey League. They will compete at the 2015 Western Canada U-16 Challenge Cup held October 27 – November 1, 2015 in Calgary, AB.