BY DALLAS SMITH
WINNIPEG, Manitoba—Last Thursday inside a frigid Notre Dame Recreation Centre the Midget and Bantam Team Manitoba teams competed in a friendly, yet competitive scrimmage in preparation for their quickly approaching National Championships. An aura of excitement surrounded the July night, as this year marks the return of the midget team into the national tournament. The three provincial coaches and brothers, Dustin, Austin, and Shane are attempting to build a consistent and competitive team for 2017, as well as a sustained program to offer the province’s top athletes a chance to compete for National Championship.
The initial stages of the Midget team’s development began early on in 2017 and it was evident that generating interest in a program that had been absent would be the biggest obstacle moving forward for the three brothers. Head coach Dustin From highlights this saying “Getting people interested was our biggest hurdle early on. It’s a lot easier to get people out when there’s a proven program, luckily we have good coaches and moving forward, the right group of guys that will make our program competitive this year and down the road.” From the outset, the coaches’ plan was evident, start early, recruit, and begin to lay the foundation of the program as early as possible.
The Midget coaches’ recruitment started with informal floor sessions to gauge talent and identify certain players. Talking about their early floor times, From States, “We got an early evaluation on the core group of guys, and were able to build around and complement them with other skillful players.” However, the recruitment process did not end in late April or early May for the Midget team, as the coaching staff continued to scour the province for additional talented players. In specific, From highlights the six players from Sagkeeng whom they recruited to their team later in the year, “First and foremost, they stood out skill-wise, very gifted, they can all shoot the ball really well, pass and catch, and have been quick learners picking up what we are trying to do on the offensive and defensive end.” With the final six additions to the 2017 team was complete.
At the outset, generating interest was the largest hurdle, but now with a full roster, the team faced a much bigger task, uniting the players from different teams and clubs into a cohesive unit using systems and principles some athletes were unfamiliar with. It is a credit to both the coaches for the atmosphere they have created as well as the players for buying into the systems. Team Captain Cameron Stucky highlights the atmosphere around the Midget Program, “I’ve known the coaches for a while, you see the success they’ve had in places like the Red River League, then you meet them and come out to practice and everybody is working hard and having fun. It makes you want to play for them.” Stucky continues, “We have a lot of guys from different areas, a lot of guys know each other from provincial programs in the past or competition against each other in the RRLA. We’re a lot closer now than we were in April and a lot closer now in July than we were in June.” The sentiment elicited by the team captain is evident even prior to their July scrimmage, the athletes showed up early, eagerly awaiting the arena to open and once they stepped onto the floor for warm up, they were crisp, loud, and noticeably excited.
The Midget Program begins their Championship Tournament on Monday, August 7th at 9:00 am CST against Québec, followed by a 3:00 pm CST showdown with Alberta.