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Hockey is life for nine-year-old elite player

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Daimon Gardner, 9, shows off his hockey jersey in his home in Warroad, Minn., as his father Vince looks on.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Daimon Gardner, 9, shows off his hockey jersey in his home in Warroad, Minn., as his father Vince looks on. Photo Store

Welcome to Warroad, Minnesota - also known by its other name, Hockeytown, U.S.A.

The town of 1,700, just over the border of southeast Manitoba, is a hockey hotbed that attracts families from the U.S. and Canada due to the opportunities available for young players.

The Free Press recently travelled to Warroad to meet Daimon Gardner and his father Vince.

Originally from Eagle Lake First Nation near Dryden, Ont., Vince, Daimon and his three older sisters live in Warroad during the school year for one reason: hockey.

At nine years old, Daimon is on the ice almost every day of the week.

He's already been courted to play for other teams in tournaments as far away as Vancouver.

Free Press photojournalist Joe Bryksa and multimedia editor Tyler Walsh spent some time recently with Daimon and Vince, who coaches the Warroad team, as they prepared for a regular season game.

tyler.walsh@freepress.mb.ca / @walsht

Tomorrow in the Winnipeg Free Press

There’s a revolution taking place in Canadian minor hockey. Some call it evolution; others call it anarchy on ice.

Across the country, teams are being spawned by the hundreds outside the long arm of Hockey Canada. It’s an entire subset of unregulated, under-the-radar programs, especially for children between the ages of eight and 13. They have become a beacon for parents with needs to fill and money to spend — whether they can afford it or not.

The most elite teams will spend the months of April, May and June travelling across North America — from Boston to Chicago to Toronto to Los Angeles — participating in tournaments that can reap organizers tens of thousands of dollars in just one weekend.

The tabs for parents can run well over $20,000. But increasingly, money is no object. In fact, the competition created in the spring leagues has only escalated the price of success.

In Winnipeg, minor hockey has become a 12-month-a-year sport, where a plethora of camps, tournaments, training programs and teams have been spawned — and proliferated — in the last decade.

How’s this for irony: there are some hockey-obsessed kids in Winnipeg right now, as young as eight, who are on the ice more than any member of the National Hockey League’s Winnipeg Jets.

Read Randy Turner's feature story in Saturday's Free Press.

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