Home-Grown Hockey Talent

Millet boys helping Icemen gain respectability in theCapital Junior Hockey League

You don’t need to go back very many years to find a time when local hockey players – those up-and-comers in the Wetaskiwin and Millet minor hockey associations – would look elsewhere to further their careers in junior hockey.
 The Icemen went five long years without qualifying for the playoffs, winning fewer than 20 games in total through those five seasons.
 Midget-age players, and those graduating from the top rung of minor hockey, were open to offers from other organizations in the Capital Junior Hockey League.
 They wanted to go elsewhere to play. They wanted to win, something unlikely to happen if they stayed in their hometown to play Junior B hockey.
 That desire to play in another town is now past history.
 The Wetaskiwin Icemen, coming off a 30-point improvement and a playoff berth one year ago, are 3-1 to open the CJHL season, are now relying on a strong core of local hockey players to win games.
 “This year the Icemen will see no less than a dozen local Wetaskiwin Minor Hockey products suit up in Icemen blue, red and white,” confirmed Icemen head coach Rick Gregory, now in his second season at the helm of the organization, and the architect behind last year’s turnaround season. “We are very appreciative of our strong association with minor hockey and will look to continue to build that relationship fostering the development of many more future Icemen right in our own community.”
 Minor hockey organizations in Wetaskiwin and Millet have produced a majority of those players, and will reap the benefits in many ways, from watching young players succeed in front of family and friends, to enticing more young players to join minor hockey after watching their hero’s perform regularly at the Wetaskiwin Civic Centre.
 The 2011-12 edition of the Wetaskiwin Icemen offers a roster made up mainly of local players. In fact, the front cover of the team’s official program features five players celebrating a goal in the home opener, and all five – Jordan Howe, Dylan Weaver, Ben Fonteyne, Zach Pezderic and D.J. Bennefield – just happen to be Millet and Wetaskiwin players.
 Howe, along with defencemen Steven Walker and Brandon Wark, grew up playing their minor hockey in Millet.
 “When I was young, I didn’t know much about the Icemen. I just played minor hockey in Millet. We’ve always been friends since we were little,” said Walker, in reference to teammates Howe and Wark. “And, I’ve known must of the guys from Wetaskiwin for a long time. You get to know them as friends and play better because of it. I always wanted to play junior hockey and when I was in bantam, I got to play in Wetaskiwin, which gave me the chance to play a better style of hockey. Junior hockey is a lot more fun than minor hockey. It’s just better hockey.”
 Walker has fond memories of his days playing minor hockey in Millet, especially the 2002 season.
 “In atom, we went to provincials in Fairview. We won the silver medal. Gold would have been better, but it was still pretty good,” recalls Walker, a 6-foot, four-inch, 210-pound defencemen in his second season with the Icemen. “Being that young, we thought it was pretty cool.
 “You got to have fun and be the best you could, and had thoughts that maybe one day you could play junior hockey.”
 So far this season, all three Millet boys have contributed to Wetaskiwin’s 3-1 start.
 Walker scored a power play goal on a booming slap shot in Spruce Grove last weekend, and has a goal and four points, Howe scored a penalty shot goal against Fort Saskatchewan last Sunday, and now leads the team with three goals and five points, while Wark has been a steady defender since missing the first two games of the season with an injury.
 “Wetaskiwin was the closest place to play Junior B. And I like the coaches. They coached me in bantam. I have a lot of buddies on the team,” says Howe, who won a provincial bantam title under current Icemen coaches Rick Gregory and Grant MacDonald. “We are all close friends, and the coaching staff is really good to us.”
 Next up ... The Icemen travel to Sherwood Park Friday and host the Edmonton Mustangs Sunday, Oct. 9 at 2 p.m. at the Wetaskiwin Civic Centre.
 Around the CJHL ... Leduc continues to struggle, and is still winless four games into the season. The Schwab Riggers host Spruce Grove Friday, Oct. 7 at 7:30 p.m. at the Leduc Recreation Centre.
 Beaumont has won two in a row and now has three wins in five games, and is coming off a 7-2 thrashing of the Beverly Warriors last weekend. The Chiefs host the Morinville Jets Friday at 8:30 p.m.
 The Edmonton Royals are the league’s lone unbeaten team at 4-0. Along with Leduc, Stony Plain has yet to taste victory. The Flyers are also 0-4.
 

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