Last month seven guys from Eeyou Istchee traveled to Ottawa and Montreal to prove that no matter how big your goals are, they are always worth shooting for.
Brothers Cliff and Eric Benac, Robbie Metabie Jr., Ernie Trapper and Benjamin Neeposh, all from the Mistissini Trappers, along with Waswanipi’s Christopher Cooper, tried out in Ottawa for CBC TV’s new reality show, called Making the Cut. Eastmain’s John Brown also gave it a go at the Montreal camp.
The show challenges any Canadian-born hockey player who thinks they’re good enough to come out to an NHL-style training camp and give it their best shot at making the big league. For a measly $55, aspiring NHLers (up to 600 participants for the Ottawa tryout alone) were able to skate in front of Scotty Bowman and Mike Keenan to test their mettle in pressure situations. Only 68 will be chosen for the final round.
Making the Cut traveled to seven different cities in search of that ever-elusive diamond in the rough. Stops included Toronto, Winnipeg, Halifax, Vancouver, Calgary and the aforementioned Ottawa and Montreal.
Six impressive players will emerge from the pack and get a chance to try out for each of the six Canadian NHL teams.
“Not only will this new program give viewers an opportunity to see what players must go through to reach an elite level, it will also offer the lucky winners a chance to fulfill a dream of playing in the NHL and create heroes for whom we can all cheer,” according to Nancy Lee, Executive Director for CBC Sports.
“Five of us got together and applied online,” said Cliff Benac. “We all play hockey together and figured we’d give it a shot. Personally, I was just going to give it a shot for fun, but me and three of the other guys ended up making it past the first cut.”
Unfortunately, that was as far as they got. Benac and his buddies were notified via email on June 30 that their dream had come to an end. They failed to make the final cut. Benac thinks that they wanted to give the younger guys a shot at “making the cut” and at 30 years old, he might not have been the perfect candidate to fill that role.
“I think that for the younger generation, there are definitely some people that have a chance [to make it] from here. I think that if more of the younger Crees applied, some of them would definitely make that second cut,” he said.
The competition was fierce, according to Benac. “There were some guys from the NCAA and university hockey. There were even guys from the American Hockey League. There were some very strong calibre players there. All in all, it was fun, a good experience.”
The boys were told to come back next year, when Bell Canada will be sponsoring another Making the Cut reality show. Benac said that, this time, they will have time to get ready. “It was kind of last minute so they told us to get in better shape and come back again next year,” he said.
Christopher Cooper, 28, used to play for the semi-pro Jonquière Condors, and he found that he learned quite a bit in Ottawa. “The training was very intense,” Cooper said. “It was a really good experience. Although in order to really be ready, I would have had to train for about two months.”
The camp had players ranging in age from 18 to 30-something. Cooper said that even though he suspects the younger guys may have a better chance at making the cut, the veterans were a welcome addition.
John Brown, 30, represented Eastmain’s sole big-league hope. He was also the only Cree to try out at the Montreal camp. “I basically signed up with the hopes of taking some young guys from Eastmain. None of them signed up, so I went down alone,” he said, adding that he was just in it for the fun of the game.
Brown hopes that next time around there will be a Cree hockey player chosen in the final cut. This is something that excites him and makes him proud.
“It would be great exposure for the Cree Nation,” Brown said. “It can only benefit hockey in the north. I think there’s a lot of hockey talent in the Cree Nation in general and I think it’s just a matter of putting more of a focus on hockey and training hard, and the guys will have a great chance at making it.”