On July 22, production started in Aylmer, Ontario on a new reality television series focused on the development of young Aboriginal hockey players from across the country.
“Hit the Ice”, which will air on APTN starting in January 2013, features young Aboriginal hockey hopefuls as they are put through the paces of a real NHL-style training camp. Among the players participating are two from Eeyou Istchee; Waskaganish’s Alex Hester, who played Midget AAA last season with the Amos Forestiers, and Danny Visitor of the Midget A Chisasibi Junior Hunters.
Both Hester and Visitor were selected after being scouted at the recent National Aboriginal Hockey Championships by former NHL player and coach, John Chabot, who will run the Hit the Ice training camp.
“You gotta be a good hockey player,” said Chabot, when asked what criteria were used to select players.
“When you’re picking a hockey team, especially short term, it’s not like putting a team together for a full year. You want character, but most important is you want players who can play. For these kids, this is their second chance to make a career at hockey.”
Indeed, with scouts attending the camp from major junior leagues across Canada, as well as from US colleges with NCAA hockey programs, Hit the Ice has the potential to change the lives of these young players.
“We are going to give these kids the major junior/pro training camp experience,” said Chabot. “A lot of these kids have never had that opportunity. There will be two-a-day practices, off-ice training, sleeping in the same hotel, sticking to curfews, different events for them to take part in, team building exercises; a lot of the things you would have at a pro camp.”
While the two-week camp will be a tough haul for the players, Chabot expects that it will be a positive experience for both Alex Hester and Danny Visitor, although he views them as two very different players.
“Danny is a big strong guy,” explained Chabot in his brief evaluation of Visitor. “What he is lacking is a bit of grit, and he needs to learn to play a certain style. He skates well, but he has to get more physical, get more involved. If he is willing to do that consistently, then teams will be interested in him.”
“Alex is just a good all-round hockey player”, continued Chabot. “He has good skill, good speed, he is tenacious, and he gets involved everywhere. We watched him at the NAHC and he was one of the most consistent players. He was always on the puck, always involved, and always wanting to do something special on the ice.”
Chabot, who played over 500 games in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings, and coached both in the NHL and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, will be assisted by Ryan Cook and Jan Cote, who are both certified coaches with plenty of experience coaching young Aboriginal players.
In addition, a number of NHL players, including Florida Panther Erik Gudbranson, Winnipeg Jet Evander Kane, and Aaron Asham of the New York Rangers, will take part in on-ice workouts, and help the team prepare for a game on the final day of camp against an all-star team comprised of players from the Ottawa area.
“The only way to properly assess a hockey player is in a game situation where it means something,” said Chabot, emphasizing the importance of the game which will be the climax of the camp.
“A lot of kids look good in practice, but it is important to understand the game. There were players we scouted that may have more skill, or are better skaters, but the players we picked we think have a better understanding of how the game is played. That is important when you go to the next level. At some point in time your skill is not enough. You’re going to have to outwork and outthink your opponent.”
For Chabot and the entire Hit the Ice team, the camp-ending game is more than just 60 minutes on the ice, it may represent an opportunity for these young players to use their hockey skills to gain an education or build a career in hockey.
“Hopefully, we will accomplish what we want to accomplish,” said Chabot, “and get a number of kids invited to Tier 2, Major Junior, or NCAA schools. That is the whole idea: to give these kids another chance.”
Learn more about Hit the Ice by visiting their website at www.HitTheIce.tv.