Minor hockey players from Stettler and elsewhere got the jump on the season last week at the third annual East Central Hockey School in Stettler.
The weeklong school is timed closely enough to September tryouts that it doubles as not only instructional, but also a training camp of sorts.
“For a lot of kids, they’re only two weeks away from tryouts, so it’s a good way to get your feet back in the skates and get the body mentally prepared for what’s ahead,” said camp director Jason Hegberg, also the president of the Stettler Minor Hockey Association.
East Central continues to operate at its capacity, with 140 players aged six to 14 signed up since late winter for the Stettler school.
“We usually put our brochures and posters out sometime after Christmas, early January, and then start taking registrations Feb. 1, and this year we were full at the end of April,” Hegberg said.
“People start planning holidays early. We’ve been fortunate to have a full camp every year. We had great comments about it this year again. We’re starting to see people coming from further distances — maybe kids that have moved a long ways away, but are coming for back for this school. It’s nice to see kids coming from out of town, and a lot of local kids, too.”
Stettler minor hockey kids accounted for about half of the entries.
“There’s a lot of kids from Castor and Coronation, and six or seven from Drumheller this year,” Hegberg said from the Stettler Recreation Centre stands.
“That seems to keep building in that area — we started off with a couple (from Drumheller).
“And some people who moved to Grande Prairie came back (to Stettler) and brought a couple more (players). We also have some Calgary kids and some Airdrie kids.”
Hegberg and his brother, Rob, along with their friend Luc Theoret, are former Western Hockey League players teaching at the Hegbergs’ hometown school.
Jason Hegberg said East Central has been popular from the get-go in 2011.
“The first year, we had 130 players,” he said. “We had a waiting list, too. We just decided to go with a few more kids (this year). But we always have (a full staff). Most of the time, we have 10 or 11 instructors on the ice. It’s OK to have a bigger group (of players) when you have that many instructors.”
East Central had a strong complement of younger kids, while the oldest age bracket had the fewest players.
“We have very few 14-year-olds, minimal 13s, and then you start getting more 12s and 11s,” Hegberg said.
“In previous years, not this camp, but with other hockey schools, we did what we called a Prep Camp, for 15- to 20-year-olds trying to get ready for their junior camps or whatever. But we found that the timing wasn’t good, because most of those kids are already at their camps or going to their camps. But it’s fine — we’re OK with that.”
Hegberg is going into his second year of a two-year term as Stettler’s minor hockey president. He also coached the peewee A team to a provincial championship last winter.
Three teams from Stettler earned provincial minor hockey titles last season.
“There’s some real good kids — a lot of good hockey teams and good players out of this town,” Hegberg said. “We had success last year, and hopefully we can put some more banners up.”
CHECK IT OUT: Hockey Alberta has taken checking out of peewee hockey, but it’s still part of the curriculum at the East Central school.
“We call it a checking clinic,” Hegberg said. “We didn’t change a thing, even though the rules have changed in the game, because there’s many, many different components to how you can check in a game. And everyone always just kind of puts bodychecking in that category. It’s only a small part of it, and they’ve taken that out of the peewee level.”
Although reaction to prohibiting checking until bantam initially sparked debate across the province, Hockey Alberta’s decision is in concert with most provincial associations across Canada.
“I was kind of on the fence and I didn’t really know what to think of it, when it first came out as a new rule,” Hegberg said. “But I’m all for it right now, just for the fact that I know that we can teach these kids how to angle. To me, that’s the most important thing about checking, anyway. If you can’t angle, using the proper positioning and putting your body and your stick in the right places, you’ll never be able to bodycheck anybody, anyway.
“I think it’s going to be good for these kids. It’s going to be an adjustment period for the kids that played peewee last year and were able to hit, and now they’re in second-year peewee and they can’t hit. So it’ll be a bit of an adjustment, but they’re old enough and smart enough to know what the rules are. It’s up to the coaches to be able to teach them the proper way to angle … That’s a big part of the game.”