This past weekend the Okanagan Hockey Group put on a WHL Development Combine in Victoria, BC. In a world where life seems to be an endless supply of new restrictions and procedures these days, for one weekend on Vancouver Island the world of youth hockey seemed relatively normal.
Kids of various ages ranging from 11 – 17 participated in a selection of on-ice drills/scrimmages and off-ice training and development. Victoria was the last stop on a tour of six WHL cities that included Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg. At each stop, the hosting WHL team provides coaches and staff to provide guidance and expertise.
This was a first for me to be invited as a “media member” so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I arrived to be greeted by both George Cochrane from the Okanagan Hockey Group and Adam McKinnon Director of Communications for the Royals. Both were very welcoming and informed me of what to expect for the afternoon.
Sports Testing Inc
The first thing I noticed was a large assortment of high-tech gear (courtesy of Sports Testing Inc.) being placed on the ice. After a little digging, I found out that every player was fitted with a Bluetooth bracelet. Before starting every drill, they were to tap it on the starting gate, activating the drill. The equipment then records which individual player was performing that drill. This is used to record drill times and after the camp, the kids/parents can see the results. It allows comparisons to others in their peer group from across Western Canada.
The results are also posted to a WHL database, for GM’s and Head Scouts to view. It allows staff to track and identify prospective draft picks.
I can only assume this is an invaluable tool for young athletes looking to see where they stack up. It is effective to help focus on portions of your game that might be lacking in comparison to others your age. A great example of how technology is helping to mold a more well-rounded complete player that can succeed at the next level.
Here is a summary of the on-ice testing portion of the camp:
The Under 13’s were the first group out to start the WHL development combine. To start it was mostly skating end to end, transitioning from forward to backward multiple times along the way. Meanwhile, goalies at the far end of the ice worked on post to post transitions and techniques.
Next up was an interesting test, a slalom style drill (no pucks) with digital gates in between the sections. The premise is that if the light goes green, you go to the left side of the flags. Red indicates you go right. This was the first portion of the testing that made use of the digital wristbands to capture results. After a few runs, pucks were added to the mix, and I was impressed to find that most kids didn’t slow down while having to carry a puck.
Goaltenders have moved on to digital testing as well. A peripheral/reaction time drill transitioning from post to post following lights placed in the corner behind them.
The trainers have moved the flags into a 4-way pivot drill around the d-zone faceoff circles. Come in from the blueline facing the net, pivot backward at the second flag. Skate backward to the top flag and repeat on the other side always facing the net. Some of the edgework shown by these kids is incredible. Adding a puck caused a little trouble for a few of them but mostly a very solid performance in this drill.
Rebound control drill for the goalies was next. Two nets six feet apart, trainers shooting on both goalies. They need to trap the puck or react to rebounds off of the other keeper. As a goalie myself, I could see this being a very difficult drill. It definitely works on vision, rebound control, and reaction speed.
To finish the on-ice testing for this group, a mini one zone scrimmage. However, they have one goalie facing the opposite way, forced to watch play behind him and react. An interesting drill which I assume would be a great way to help goalies with corner/behind the net play.
Dan Price – Royals GM and Head Coach
I also managed to have a quick chat with Royals Head Coach/GM Dan Price. He has had a very interesting career that includes a decade in the WHL.
Price was very excited to watch these young players. “This combine gives us the ability to scout for the future,” he said. While admitting that while the majority of attendees were years away from being draft-eligible, “potential talent is out there everywhere”.
With Price’s scouting background (Pats ‘03-’06) it’s good to know he is leaving no stone unturned in the hunt for making the Royals a perennial Ed Chynoweth Cup contender.
All in all, after five hours at the rink and having conversations with staff and parents, it was well-received on all fronts. The parents say it was a great value and they can’t wait to see the results. The Royals staff was impressed with the talent level displayed and the organizational skills of George and his team from Okanagan Hockey Group.
An interesting first-time experience at the WHL Development combine, and one that I will use to further my knowledge of this league, and specifically the Victoria Royals.