There’s no time like the present to consider the future; especially if you’re a member of Hockey Alberta and the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
The partnership between both organizations has existed for decades, with success stories at every level of the game, but neither group are about to rest on their laurels.
Last weekend’s HP1 and Development Camp in Camrose brought together prospective 2001 born players, coaches and staff to the camp with the hopes of finding the next generation of hockey stars.
“The purpose is two-fold,” said Fort McMurray Oil Barons head coach Tom Keca, who helped lead sessions at the camp. “It’s the HP1 conference for coaches and then it’s also a showcase where they invite (AMMHL) kids that haven’t been listed by Western Hockey League teams that are still contemplating what route they want to take.”
The route from the AJHL to the National Hockey League has gained prominence among the hockey world in recent years. The emergence of players like Colton Parayko and Carter Rowney are just two recent examples of Albertan players who took the Junior A path and found success.
Others such as Colorado Avalanche first round draft pick Cale Makar and Chicago Blackhawks draft picks Parker Foo and Ian Mitchell, represent the present as well with their hockey stories just beginning to unfold.
Far from existing as a backup plan, Keca added that he shared a message with the players in attendance that having multiple choices wasn’t a bad thing to consider.
“The one message I gave kids, is it’s always good to have choices, rather than being told what they have to do,” said Keca. “With people like Colton Parayko, who made a name for himself in the NHL and Cale Makar being fourth overall [this year], I think it’s important for these players to know that they don't have to play in the WHL to get drafted.”
It’s the path taken by players like defenceman Gunner Kinniburgh, who was recruited by Keca out of the camp and is in line to make the Barons roster this coming year. The additions go beyond just the Barons and Storm however, with all 16 teams drawing from the pool of talent available. The inaugural edition of the camp proved very successful as 14 players who attended in 2016 were signed to an AJHL White Card or affiliated to an AJHL team during the 2016-17 season.
“These kids will hopefully one day form the foundation of our league,” added Keca. “It’s important to try and get out the message that we’re a league that not only believes in developing good hockey players, but good people and good academic kids as well.”
For his part, Keca offered players a glimpse into the life of a player on his team, all down to the daily routine. It’s all part of selling his league to the next generation in an attempt to share hockey knowledge that Keca hopes will go a long way in furthering the career of the players and the league he’s been involved with for decades.
“We’re not saying that every kid has to go to the AJHL, but we also want to make sure that as a league that we’re fairly visible.”
Story by Robert Murray