The Bell MTS Iceplex is a hub of hockey development. It’s a place where those in the Winnipeg hockey community regularly congregate for games, tournaments, and practices. From Jan. 30-Feb. 2, the Iceplex brought together people from far beyond Winnipeg with the Female World Sport School Challenge, an annual tournament in its eighth year that brings together the top female prep hockey teams in western Canada and the northern US.
For Jets Hockey Development (JHD) Coach and Manager of Player Development Larry Bumstead, the tournament brings together much more than just top hockey teams. It brings together all aspects of his hockey life. Not only is Bumstead a JHD coach, he is also the head coach of the St. Mary’s Academy Flames prep hockey team, the hosts of the tournament, and has a daughter playing on his St. Mary’s team. At this one tournament, Larry is tournament organizer, coach, and hockey dad all at once.
Though he juggles several roles during the tournament, Bumstead is quick to give credit for the success of the tournament to others.
“It’s all about the little things that people do to make this tournament run, and the volunteers,” said Bumstead, whose St. Mary’s team came away with a silver medal at the tournament this year. “We started it eight years ago with a vision to put on a world-class hockey tournament for high school girls, and St. Mary’s has really embraced it from the volunteers, to the alumni, to the parents.”
On top of the many volunteer efforts, the fact that the entire Iceplex is involved in a tournament like this makes it a truly amazing experience for players, coaches, and parents.
With Bumstead working at the Iceplex, he is able to help teams line up ice time for practices and gym time at Focus Fitness for training leading up to and during the tournament. The tournament also utilizes The Press Box restaurant for team meals after games, and for a banquet dinner where they hosted 400 people including players, coaches, and parents. Bumstead even got True North Youth Foundation Director Dwayne Green to speak at the banquet.
“Being able to work closely with True North staff, because I work here, gives us a really unique opportunity to showcase our building and facility,” said Bumstead.
Additionally, because the Iceplex is run by True North Sports + Entertainment which owns and operates the Winnipeg Jets, Bumstead was able to ensure that scheduling allowed some teams the chance to watch the Jets play, further adding to their experience that weekend.
All those efforts to make the Female World Sport School Challenge a success led to a great weekend of hockey development for the players. For high school players, a big part of their development is elevating themselves to the next level – university hockey. Though these girls spend countless hours training on and off the ice to make that dream a reality, being watched by scouts is a key aspect of getting to that next level and the FWSSC helps them out a lot in that regard.
This year, 16 USports and NCAA teams, as well as Hockey Manitoba and Hockey Canada were at the event, and at least seven more schools watched by livestream.
The tournament goes beyond developing just the girls playing in the tournament too. There is a big focus on the development of the next generation of girls through the junior host program, and those junior hosts may very well be future players in the Female School Sport World Challenge.
“The junior hosts get brought into the dressing room,” explained Bumstead. “They fill up water bottles, bring snacks out, help carry the sticks out, set the pucks out and so on. They’re treated like royalty and the teams embrace them. What’s interesting is, I look around our St. Mary’s dressing room, and I can see six girls on this team alone that were junior hosts at one time.”
That mindset of developing girls of all ages is one that Bumstead uses in his work with the JHD as well. He’s been helping to run the All-Girls Spring Classic tournament for Novice, Atom and Peewee level female players held at the Iceplex each spring for many years, and sees how both that tournament, and the FWSSC fuel interest and participation in Iceplex programs.
“These tournaments build recognition for female hockey, and in turn that increased awareness gives us an opportunity to run girls’ programs. So, there’s a progression from getting girls into the program, to running a younger girls’ tournament, to having the big showcase of the World Sport School Challenge.”
On January 20, Jets Hockey Development coach Venla Hovi was honoured by the University of Manitoba Bisons hockey program by being inducted into their Hockey Hall of Fame at a reception held at the Assiniboine Park Zoo’s Journey to Churchill exhbit. With a tribute like that, it’s clear Hovi left a lasting impression on the hockey program at the university with her on-ice talents.
Hovi’s career stats over three seasons with the Bisons speak for themselves. Through 51 regular season games played, she amassed 21 goals and 49 points. That was all merely a prelude to the highlight of her time in brown and gold, as she capped off her final season with the team by winning a USports National Championship in 2017-18.
There were many more highlights during Hovi’s three seasons at U of M. It was during her time there that she played in the Olympics as part of the Finnish women’s hockey team. But as a Bison, two other games remain etched in Hovi’s mind.
“We played two games in my time at U of M that were extremely long,” recalled Hovi. “One went to five overtimes, and the other one went to four overtimes. The second one I played six hours after landing in Winnipeg from my travels home from the PyeongChang Olympics and we moved on to the Canada West Finals.”
Talk about a whirlwind.
Though her whole university hockey career may feel like one big whirlwind now, it’s clear that Hovi’s Bison teammates have left as much of a lasting impression on her as she did on the hockey program.
“The girls were extremely good people and supported me so much along the way, especially during my training all the way to the Olympics,” said Hovi. “I really gained a lot of friendships, and the Bison teams during the three years I played there have a really special place in my heart.
“They were special groups in terms of team dynamics,” continued Hovi. “We were such a tight-knit group, and players genuinely played for each other. It was a big jump for me to come play here all the way from Finland, but I experienced how welcoming the community was. I’m forever thankful for all the help and support of my teammates, staff, and the players’ families.”
It seems only fitting that Hovi has made Manitoba her new home and is now giving back to the game of hockey. She’s stayed involved at the U of M by helping to coach the women’s hockey team there, while her day job sees her coach at the Bell MTS Iceplex with Jets Hockey Development. That’s another hockey community that Hovi has felt welcomed in, and it shows in the way the other coaches speak about her.
“This is an exciting time for the coaches at JHD with Venla being recognized by the University of Manitoba as a player who left her mark on the program,” said Dave Cameron, Head On-Ice Instructor with JHD. “This is one more thing to add to her already incredibly impressive list of accomplishments. She was an incredible player who had success at every level she played at and that has transferred into her coaching, where she is able to help players develop their skating and skills to help see success on the ice.”
For Hovi, whether coaching at the Iceplex or at the U of M, it’s all a way to stay connected with the Winnipeg hockey community that has impacted her life so greatly.
“My teammates were such good people and students and continue to be leaders in their lives after hockey. Some of them are my best friends in Winnipeg, and it would be really tough for me to picture my life without them.”
U18 AAA Classic planned for 2020 as Bantam tournament continues to draw teams and scouts
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.
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 Academy, Project 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.