Popular Bantam AAA Classic leads to U18 AAA Classic

U18 AAA Classic planned for 2020 as Bantam tournament continues to draw teams and scouts

Jason Friesen

Ask any young developing hockey player – their goal is to be noticed. It’s how you get anywhere in any sport; a scout notices your talent, and hopefully more scouts continue watching you. Get enough attention, and you may just get drafted to the next level.

That’s exactly what the Winnipeg Jets AAA Classic hosted at the Bell MTS Iceplex each November hopes to provide for young hockey players. After three years of the tournament, it is becoming an attractive spot for teams and scouts alike from Western Canada to congregate. With 2020 registration now open, you can REGISTER YOUR TEAM for the 2020 Winnipeg Jets AAA Classic.

The tournament itself is drawing attention, similar to the way the players are, and has been so successful that the Iceplex will be adding a U18 AAA Classic this year on Nov. 5-8, 2020.

“The AAA Classic started with eight teams and has now grown to 16 with a waiting list,” said Dean Court, Business and Amateur Hockey Development & Programming Manager for Jets Hockey Development (JHD), who helps to organize and run the tournament. “Teams from across Western Canada and the Northern United States attend what is now considered the pre-eminent Bantam tournament in Western Canada. The level of competition and play has increased each of the last three years, and with it an increase in WHL scouts.

“Our partnership with Hockey Winnipeg has allowed this type of event to grow and gain a foothold in the local hockey calendar. A U18 tournament will provide another weekend for top players in the province and across Western Canada to compete in a highly competitive event.”

Though competition is important to the Bantam teams that have attended the AAA Classic, it’s the presence of Western Hockey League scouts that make a tournament attractive. So as the tournament has grown and drawn a larger crowd of scouts, it has been able to achieve a greater goal; allowing players to grow and realize their dreams of getting drafted to the WHL.

“The goal of this tournament is to create excitement for players of the Bantam WHL draft class and provide a venue for teams with similar goals to compete against one another early in their season,” said Court. “The Bell MTS Iceplex provides an atmosphere that is unmatched for an event of this stature, providing players, scouts, and fans a best-in-class atmosphere.”

The growth and efforts of the tournament haven’t gone unnoticed. The Vancouver North East Chiefs played in the tournament for the first time in 2019, and their general manager Greg Harding noted the scouts as a big draw for the team to travel all the way from B.C.

“The scouts are certainly a part of the draw, and it perhaps gives the players a chance to be looked at by different scouts than would typically see our games,” noted Harding. “A tournament like this really gets the kids a different look. We are used to playing the same teams all the time in our league. This gets them exposure to

different high-end players, and it gives them a sense of where they need to get to in order to be a high pick in the WHL Bantam draft.”

The competition didn’t disappoint either.

“I think our boys were a little taken aback in the first period of our first game of the tournament,” said Harding. “It was a real eye-opener for them.”

Manitoba teams did particularly well, with the Winnipeg Monarchs taking the gold medal. For their coach, Scott Coates, the tournament win was a thrill. But perhaps he is even more excited about what the AAA Classic has grown to become in just three short years, and what that means for hockey players in Manitoba.

“It’s good for all of the kids in Manitoba to have a tournament they can identify as their own and have other teams from outside of the province come in,” said Coates. “Based on where we are positioned, we haven’t had a lot of tournaments like this in the past. A lot of Winnipeg teams only go to one tournament outside the province each year, so this really helps us find out how we compare to teams across Western Canada and the U.S. It gives us confidence to be able to compete with the teams from B.C and North Dakota.”

Manitoba’s success in the tournament comes as no surprise to Court, who knows as well as anyone what the province does to develop its hockey players. His Jets Hockey Development team trains weekly with many of the Winnipeg AAA teams through the AAA Skills program they provide.

“This program provides the AAA players unmatched professional skills development on a weekly basis throughout the season, setting the player and teams up for long-term success,” noted Court.

With that kind of dedication to improvement from the Manitoba teams, the Iceplex staff know the tournament will continue to grow. Not in the number of teams that attend, but in the quality of play as teams improve over the years and set the bar higher.

Registration is now open for the 2020 Winnipeg Jets AAA Classic – visit BellMTSIceplex.ca/TOURNAMENTS.

Puck Luck

It may have been beginners luck, but Kaylynn Kusugak is crediting hockey for a big win that made Christmas 2019 extra sweet for her family of six.

The Rankin Inlet resident made the chance decision to enroll her 12-year-old son Payton Kabluitok in the Bell MTS Iceplex Challenge Cup over the holidays which led to Kusugak and husband Eugene Kabluitok attending their first-ever Jets game on Dec. 23. Now the pair is $90,630 richer after winning the 50/50 draw that featured a “sweetened pot” that started at $20,000.

“We thought we’d just come in and enjoy the trip and watch (Payton) play hockey,” said Kusugak noting that hockey is a huge part of their community with all kids aspiring to be the next Jordan Tootoo. “Hockey brought us here and that’s how we ended up with this luck.”

In fact, winning the Jets 50/50 draw was not the first lucky break Kusugak had had that day – she almost didn’t even go to the game.

“Originally my husband was going to take one of our boys but we couldn’t decide who was going to go and didn’t want them to be upset so, at the last minute we got a babysitter.”

“For some reason, I don’t know why I was so set on buying a 50/50 ticket,” Kusugak recalled. “When we found out we won, people kept saying, ‘you talked about 50/50 all day.’”

Kusugak bought $50 worth of tickets from the first seller that she heard calling not even realizing the draw featured a sweetened pot. The pair had a great time at the game but left a little early before the 50/50 draw was made.

It occurred to Kusugak that they should check for the winning number online and when her husband started calling for her to come look she thought he was pulling her leg. She looked at the tickets while he read the numbers online. She then gave him the ticket and she double checked the computer but was still not convinced.

“I thought maybe the date is wrong or maybe something was wrong – I just couldn’t imagine winning that amount of money.”

They made a phone call to have it officially confirmed and then it finally started to hit them.

“I couldn’t even talk about it for the first night, I was so overwhelmed. I thought it was too good to be true and we couldn’t claim it until Friday (Dec. 27) so we were thinking something is going to happen from Monday to Friday – we were really worried about the ticket blowing away or something getting spilled on it,” she said laughing.

They found a clear plastic bag from a pair of nail clippers that her husband had just purchased and safely tucked and fastened the winning ticket into it to keep it safe from rips and spills.

“Now that it’s done and we submitted the ticket and the paperwork I can finally laugh about it,” Kusugak said of their overt paranoia.

As for what they may spend some of the money on, a snowmobile is at the top of the family’s list.

“We live off the animals and fish that are caught on the land and it really helps us to afford to live in the north,” explained Kusugak noting that having a snowmobile will allow them to keep hunting throughout the winter months.

“It gives us a little extra, more than a little extra, that we won’t have to worry so much when things come up.”

The disbelief and paranoia may have subsided but the overwhelmingness remains.

Son Payton played his first games in the Challenge Cup Dec. 27 and he may have to forgive his parents if they seem a little distracted as they look on from the stands of the Bell MTS Iceplex – they may be dreaming about the many possibilities for a family vacation.

“We definitely want to do a trip. This gives us the chance we’ve always wanted to travel somewhere,” said Kusugak adding that the cost of simply getting out of their isolated community is close to $3,000 per person.

Of course, The Kusugak-Kabluitok family are not the only winners from the 50/50 draw. The other half of the pot will go toward the True North Youth Foundation and its efforts to empower underserved youth. The Winnipeg Jets and Manitoba Moose 50/50 programs are the primary funding source for the TNYF’s three core programs, the Winnipeg Jets Hockey AcademyProject 11 and Camp Manitou. Last year, the TNYF positively impacted more than 42,000 members of the community.

As well as being purchased in-game, 50/50 tickets are also available for purchase online for Winnipeg Jets home and away games. Visit TNYF.ca/fifty-fifty for more information.

GAME ON: The Responsibility of the Platform

Some of the most influential people that children, young adults and even adults will have in their lives are coaches. Regardless of your title in the gym – trainer, fitness leader, strength specialist or whatever else it may be – always remember that above anything else, you are a coach.

As a coach, you have a platform – people are listening to you. You have a responsibility to provide as much value and to make as much impact as you can with that platform. It does not matter how big or small you think your platform is, or if you are working with young kids, pros, a team or an individual, the responsibility is the same.

I was very fortunate to have some great strength and conditioning coaches that helped me in many ways over the years. They were teachers, motivators, and confidants. They added value to my day every day I worked with them and I am still appreciative.

I have now had the experience of being a strength and conditioning coach for over 15 years. Here are some things I have learned that can also help you to make a difference in the athletes you work with.

  1. Say “Hi”. Acknowledge and greet every single person that walks through the gym doors. It doesn’t matter how busy you are. You always have a second to say “hi”, shake a hand or wave from across the gym. It doesn’t matter whether someone has been coming to the gym for years or it’s their first day; acknowledging people sets the stage for a positive experience every time they walk in.
  2. Body Language. Your body language matters. Be engaged, stand with good posture, exude energy, and position yourself at optimal angles to coach. Small details, maybe; but these details matter. You are in a gym, it’s a physical place and athletes are visual learners. What you do physically can be even more important in some cases than what you say.
  3. Always Get Better. Your job is to consistently coach people through the process of becoming better every day. Walk the walk. Lead by example and do something to get better every day. Train hard, read, ask questions, eat well, take courses, watch videos, practice. Every time you do something to make yourself better, you add value to what you can share and coach people through.
  4. Never Think You Know Everything. Never, ever do this. If you do not know something, simply indicate you don’t and commit to finding out. Hustle for the answer, read, make phone calls or whatever you have to do, and then get back to them with what you learn. People will appreciate the effort much more than you making something up. The second you think you know everything is the exact same second that you stop getting better. When you stop getting better you limit the value you can bring.

One thing you will notice is that none of these actions require any talent. They require effort. Coaching is not a talent thing, it’s an effort thing. Accept the responsibility, put in the effort, use your platform, make a difference.

Until next time,

Strength, Courage, Hustle, Commitment

AJ Zeglen

Iceplex boasts four athletes on Canada’s National Women’s Team Fall Festival Roster

If you go to the Bell MTS Iceplex website and visit the Jets Hockey Development (JHD) page, the first line you’ll find in the description reads, “Jets Hockey Development is dedicated to providing every program participant the very best opportunity to develop as a hockey player and person.” That may be a simple statement, and it may be obvious. But it may be an understatement when you consider the success of some of the athletes in their programs.

At the end of this past summer, four female hockey players who train at the Iceplex were named to the Hockey Canada National Women’s Team Fall Festival roster. The list included goalie Kristen Campbell, as well as Halli Krzyzaniak, Brigette Lacquette, and Kati Tabin, who all play defence.

With the ultimate goal for these girls being playing for Team Canada at the Olympics, this is a big step for all of them in reaching that goal.

“Hockey Canada has a national program in non-Olympic years consisting of a larger roster of players, and players from that roster are called to compete at various tournaments like the Four Nations Cup or in the World Championships,” said Dave Cameron, Head On-ice Instructor with JHD. “In Olympic years, they trim that roster down. So these women would be in that eligible spot to be called to different tournaments in non-Olympic years. Eventually, they’re the ones who are being looked at for the Olympics.”

Being named to the Team Canada roster is a big step, though only the most recent one. Many developmental steps have been taken in getting to this point for these four women, many of which have have been made at Bell MTS Iceplex. Just as it says on the Iceplex website, and in the Jets Hockey Development name, development is key.

“That’s the goal – to help players continue to develop,” noted Cameron. “On the female side we’ve seen players go from prep school teams, to university teams, to continuing to play professionally, to getting opportunities to play with the national program. For us, that’s why we do this.”

For Hockey Canada though, player development must be specific.

“What Team Canada looks for from these players is to be really detailed and specific in the training they’re getting,” said Cameron. “That can be really detailed skating work, detailed passing and pass reception, or shooting drills for the forwards. And then they want to have situations that lead into things that they’re going to see in games, so that when they get into games, they’re really comfortable with things.”

Having high-level coaches who know exactly what is being required of these players to reach the highest level is a huge advantage. It’s tough to beat the tailored practices designed to focus on  the exact skills and drills they need to improve on, making it no wonder these women keep coming back to the Iceplex to train.

“I’ve been fortunate to work with Dave over a long period of my career and I really value his input on my game,” said Krzyzaniak, who has also coached with JHD on a part-time basis. “The coaches at the Iceplex are very good at customizing sessions based on your needs and what you want to add to your skillset, which I think is part of what makes them so effective. Another thing is the passion and energy that they bring to the game, which helps you get through some tough sessions.”

Campbell, who currently plays at the University of Wisconsin and led the team to a national championship this past spring, has been training at the Iceplex for five years with JHD’s Manager of Goalie Development Andy Kollar and speaks just as highly of her experience training at the venue.

“Andy has been amazing in working with me on my game,” said Campbell. “He has such a calming presence and I find his personality allows me to learn better and perform better. We talk a lot about the mental side of the game during our training sessions and he has helped elevate my mental game. We always stay in touch while I’m at college too. Working one-on-one with Andy has allowed me to make adjustments to my game and hone in on details that were separating me from reaching the next level.”

The players may have a lot of confidence in the JHD coaches, but that’s rivalled by the amount of confidence their coaches have in them.

“I feel like Kristen is the next Olympic goalie,” said Kollar. “I feel that strongly of her skillset. Her crease movements, stance, and knowledge are amazing. The best reference I can make is that people say when Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hits a baseball, it’s a different sound off the bat because he hits so hard. When Kristen skates and when she pushes off in her crease, it’s just a different sound on the ice. It’s so powerful and explosive, yet balanced and controlled.”

For Cameron, he knows how hard each of these players have worked, and it’s their knowledge of the process that gives him confidence.

“These players are great examples of when you stick with it, you follow the plan, and you trust the people that you’re with, great things can happen.”

But there’s one attribute that is consistent across all of these women – hard work.

“Kids can learn from the fact that every time Kristen comes on the ice, she’s there to work,” said Kollar. “She makes me work harder and it sets a great example for everybody else.”

“These women really show a lot of our other players what hard work looks like, what dedication looks like, and what attention to detail and positive attitudes look like,” said Cameron. “When they come, they’re willing to work and to be open to getting better. There’s no arrogance or anything like that. That stands out to the high school players and younger college players who get to skate with them on occasion, it stands out to their parents, and it’s really noticeable when these players come out for training.”

Avoid Traps in your Training

Training for sports has never been so popular and for good reason. By increasing the strength, power, speed, and efficiency with which our body moves we can effectively make ourselves better athletes.

That’s the good.

The bad is that people see this as an opportunity to make money and shamelessly push agendas that are not in the best interest of the athlete, but rather in the best interest of their bottom line. The fundamentals of strength and conditioning are not overly complicated. There is no magic program, magic exercises, short cuts or secret science. It is consistent, hard work every time; that’s it. If someone is trying to sell you a particular type of training that excludes other training modalities it is for their best interest, not yours. I remember taking a kettlebell certification course years ago. The whole weekend centered on trying to convince you that the only thing you needed in your whole gym was kettlebells and to basically throw everything else out. Can you imagine having a training facility where you train high-level and developmental athletes from a variety of sports and only give them one single type of training tool?


I get it; everyone has their own agenda and everyone is trying to make a living in the business. But as an athlete, these influences can get you in a training trap. They stifle learning and progress. In any sport, the best performers are the best athletes. To be a great athlete you need multiple techniques, disciplines and training stimuli. Tracking too many numbers can be another trap. Sets, reps, weight, distance, time are all very effective ways to track progress. Anything outside of this can be overkill. Make sure the data you use makes sense to you and is useable by you.

Remember the science doesn’t dictate how we perform; our effort and how we perform is what creates the science. Too much information can be a distraction. Focus on basic numbers for your feedback and you will be successful. Get in a good gym with a positive culture and atmosphere. Use a variety of simple, effective training techniques to help become the best athlete you can be. Keep it simple. Keep it consistent. Avoid traps and keep moving forward.

Until next time,
Strength, Courage, Hustle, Commitment