During the week of July 8, Waskaganish played host to the community’s first hockey camp of the summer. Organized by Waskaganish Recreation Director Charles J. Hester and run by Barrett Leganchuk, scouting coordinator and assistant video coach for the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets, the Pro-North Goaltending Camp brought together aspiring young goaltenders from across Eeyou Istchee for four days of intensive on-ice training in goaltending fundamentals.
Leading the young players through on-ice and dry land drills was former NHL goaltender and current Winnipeg Jets goaltending coach Wade Flaherty. A veteran of over 120 NHL games and over 500 AHL and IHL games, Flaherty’s goal at camps like Pro-North Goaltending is to give the young players a taste of what a real pro hockey training camp is like, while instilling in his young charges the importance of commitment and dedication to achieving objectives, both in hockey and in other endeavours off the ice.
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“We have a total of 16 kids participating, from seven different Cree communities,” said Leganchuk, who has run other hockey camps in Waskaganish in previous summers, most notably in 2009 when the on-ice activities were lead by current Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer.
“There are quite a few of the top goalies from the Cree nation participating. They have been working hard and really want to learn.”
For Flaherty, while he has participated in hockey schools attended by young Aboriginal players in his native British Columbia, this has been his first experience running a hockey clinic in a northern community.
“I am very impressed with how things are run (in Waskaganish). This isn’t the only camp that is run here. It’s pretty impressive for such a small community,” said Flaherty, who broke into the NHL coaching ranks in 2009 as developmental goaltending coach with the Chicago Blackhawks, where he worked closely with the Hawks’ two Stanley Cup winning backstops – Antii Niemi and Corey Crawford.
“The key things we are focusing on are the fundamentals and advanced techniques,” continued Flaherty.
Each goaltender was evaluated on the fly, on the first day, and then they were split into different groupings, primarily based on age. The younger group (age 6 to 13) was focused on basic fundamentals, while the older group (age 14+) was focused on technique drills – drills that are used by goaltenders in the National Hockey League.
“We’ve really tried to push these kids into more advanced drills,” said Flaherty.
“We brought up some junior goalies who focused on dry land training. We also ran them through video sessions. Essentially, we show them what NHL goalies go through, as they prepare for what will happen the next day, in the next game.”
On the final evening of the camp, the young players had the opportunity to attend a workshop presented by Mervin Cheechoo, father of former NHL star and Rocket Richard Trophy winner Jonathan Cheechoo.
The elder Cheechoo, along with former NHLer Rick Martin and other members of the Cheechoo family, runs the Hockey Camp of Hope, which took place in Waskaganish immediately following the Pro-North Goaltending camp. Cheechoo speaks to both young players and their parents about the importance of fierce but fair competition, and developing mental toughness in both hockey and life.
“Mervin’s workshop is geared toward the athlete. I have heard the workshop before and it is very good. He really focuses on points that can help young athletes both on and off the ice. As a goalie, if you are not tough mentally, you will have a tough time,” said Leganchuk.
“Fortunately, Mervin has been able to participate in our camp and we have been lucky to have him.”
Cree Hockey News & Notes
After a successful season with the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL, during which he led the Barons to the AHL Western Conference Final, Moose Factory’s Jonathan Cheechoo is heading to Europe after signing with Medvescak Zagreb of the KHL. Details of the contract were not available at press time.
Hit the Ice, the popular APTN reality program highlighting the challenges of a professional calibre hockey camp, comes to a conclusion on July 19, with the camp’s final game in Ottawa. The second season of Hit the Ice will hit the airwaves on APTN this winter.