By Derek Holtom
MJHL Web Correspondent
The Manitoba Junior Hockey League, and the 11 teams within, provide an outstanding option to junior players from across North America. Constantly seeking to improve their product and the services they provide their players, the MJHL hosted their inaugural Prospects Development Camp at the Seven Oaks arena in Winnipeg.
Open to players born in 2000 and 2001, the camp brought together 72 prospective players with current players, MJHL coaches, alumni, scouts, and a host of others hockey-related professionals. Throughout the four-day event (which ran July 27-30), players got their first real taste of junior hockey, as well as some useful information to help them achieve their goals.
“The main goal of the camp is to get our league prospects together and give them the tools and information they need to make the transition from midget hockey to junior hockey,” said Kevin Saurette, Director of Operations for the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
The players will be put through four days of training, scrimmages and information sessions. There were past and present players in attendance, physical therapists, coaches, scouts, and other league officials for a first-of-its-kind event in Manitoba.
“MJHL coaches are leading the practice sessions, current MJHL players will serve as group leaders and help provide their perspective on what to expect,” explained Saurette. “There will also be on-ice skill development sessions.”
Leading those sessions was NHL veteran J.P. Vigier with the forwards, U of Manitoba Bisons’ assistant coach Riley Dudar with the defense, and University of Maine assistant coach Alfie Michaud with the goaltenders.
The off-ice information sessions were also extremely interesting and informative. One of the highlights was the MJHL Hot Stove panel, which was emceed by Paul Edmunds, the voice of the Winnipeg Jets on TSN radio. He moderated a panel which featured Matt Shaw (assistant coach, U of North Dakota), Dave Shyiak (associate coach, Western Michigan University), Peter Stoykewich (Winnipeg South Blues alumni, current Manitoba Moose player), and Zach Whitecloud (Virden Oil Capitals alumni, current Bemidji State player). There is also a session dedicated on college hockey, with some great information provided to players interested in continuing their hockey at the school level.
Opening the camp on Thursday night, Saurette and MJHL Commissioner Kim Davis took players through a one-hour power-point presentation, showcasing some recent MJHL grads who have gone on to the WHL, CIS, NCAA and even the NHL. They also highlighted what the league does to help advance players, such as improved game-streaming which is highly utilized by scouts (as well as fans and parents).
As for the actual participants, they felt this camp was an excellent way to prepare themselves as they head into the junior ranks. And most players were most looking forward to the scrimmages, with MJHL coaches running the bench.
“The GM from Neepawa sent me an email and said this would be a great thing to attend,” said Jaeger Lapointe, the Ste. Rose du Lac native who played with the Parkland Rangers last year. “Playing games with MJHL coaches and players is what I was looking forward to the most.”
“Seeing what it takes to make the next level is a huge benefit for me,” he added.
Those comments were echoed by Winnipeg native Mitchell Joss, a draft pick of the Dauphin Kings.
“This is a great experience, and a chance to see other players in the system,” said Joss, who played with the Winnipeg Wild last year. “And I’m really looking forward to the games. Working with the MJHL coaches, who are among the best in the province, let me see what it takes to be at this level.”
Overall, the MJHL believes this initiative will be another great tool to help their players realize their full potential.
“We think they’re getting a lot of value on and off the ice,” said Saurette. “There is a lot of mental and physical preparation, and we’re just trying to give them all the information we can to make sure they are really prepared for junior next season.”