Ten former Vanderhoof Bears are hundreds of kilometres away from the den this winter to take their hockey to the next level.
From September until March, players are living away from family, practising on the ice daily, training in the gym multiple times a week, and competing in 40 games and tournaments by travelling to 10 other cities across the province by bus or plane.
For some, it’s also an uncertain time for the next few years, as players are unsure which team they’ll be playing for, where they’ll be in the following spring, and whether they’ll continue pursuing higher level hockey.
In their first year out are:
Simon Nemethy in Trail with the Kootenay Ice of the BC Hockey Major Midget League;
Tate Page in Saskatchewan with the Kindersley Klippers of the Saskatchewan Junior League; and
Booker Daniel, Caleb Goncalves, and Fort St. James’ Slade Desharnais in Whitehorse with the Yukon Mustangs Elite U16.
In their second year out are:
Hunter Floris and Fort St. James’ Marcus Allen in Prince George with the Cariboo Cougars of the BC Hockey Major Midget League;
Caleb Kelly in Alberta with the Beaver Lodge Blades of the Northwest Junior Hockey League;
Kolby Page with the 100 Mile House Wranglers of the Kootnenay International Junior Hockey League; and
Fort St. James’ Jeff Saharchuk in Kamloops with the Thompson Blazers of the BC Hockey Major Midget League.
After playing for Vanderhoof, the next step up for 15-year-olds is the Minor Midget League, the Major Midget League, and then followed by the Junior A or B League.
Marty Floris, vice president of the Vanderhoof and Districts Minor Hockey Association, coached the boys since they first picked up a hockey stick and hit the ice.
“They obviously have a pretty good skillset, they love the game, and they don’t mind putting in the extra time to make themselves get better,” Floris said. “My philosophy is if you like the game and have a bit passion, you owe it to yourself and others to do a little bit of work.”
For the last five years, an extra 2.5 hours each week dedicated to hockey skills during school time are added to Vanderhoof’s minor hockey program, starting with Grade 5 students.
“The arena sits there underutilized during the day, and we think, ‘How can we incorporate this in the program and benefit our kids in town?’” he said. “The kids get more time on the ice, more touches of the puck, more chances to shoot.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what sport or skill you’re trying to do, along with some quality instruction, you will get better.”
About six former Vanderhoof Bears in recent years reached Junior A League or higher, some playing for American college varsity teams.
“I can’t be prouder and I tried to keep tabs on what they are doing,” Floris said. “When I’m free, I try to watch their games in Prince George.
“It’s rewarding to see kids recognized for their hard work. Even though we’re a small town, we can produce some talented hockey players.”