Maybe Brent Sutter should pop into Winnipeg this Saturday for a first-hand look at the skills this city's young hockey players have developed.
Winnipeg AAA Hockey will hold its all-star celebrations this weekend with three games and skills competitions featuring Bantam 1, Bantam 2 and Midget players from across the city.
Sutter recently pointed at the lack of skill development at the grassroots level in Canadian hockey as having an effect on the recent lack of success at the world junior level. Skills, according to Sutter, are too often taking a backseat to systems and the Xs and Os preached by minor hockey coaches trying to win games.
'To me, this is a chance to have fun and go up against the best of the city and see how you compare'
"I think to certain extent, Brent is right. I don't agree 100 per cent with him," said Russ Cassidy, vice-president of Hockey Winnipeg and chair of the AAA council. "We have to have an emphasis on skills. Our AAA programs, on Mondays and Tuesdays our players attend skills sessions. Exclusively skills. We find our coaches run out of time at practices to teach the systems, work on skills and keep the kids up to date on how they want them to play. Brent is headed in the right direction. Coaches can't ignore the winning and losing and just focus on skills. There has to be a balance."
Jonathan Toews, to name just one player developed in Winnipeg, is the ultimate balance of skill and system. Toews has elite talent and skills but doesn't rely alone on them, instead playing a complete game that is steeped in his team's system and defence first values.
Not every player can be Toews but that's what the players in this game have in mind.
"This is a great opportunity. I hope to have a future in hockey. I train hard and prepare," said 14-year-old Dylan Myskiw, goalie with the Bantam 1 Winnipeg Hawks.
'Brent is headed in the right direction. Coaches can't ignore the winning and losing and just focus on skills. There has to be a balance'
Jeremy Leipsic says skills development is the player's responsibility.
"We work on skills on our own time. We work on them with the team too but if you want to get better you have to take that on yourself," said Leipsic, a 16-year-old forward with the Winnipeg Monarchs midget squad. "I go to the gym, work on skills and do lots of off-ice stuff with a few other guys from the team."
Michael Lee was all smiles talking about being named an all-star.
"I'm honoured to be part of an all-star game. I can't wait to participate. I think I'm fast, make smart plays and I can think the game," said Lee, a 13-year-old forward with the Bantam 1 Winnipeg Hawks. "I'm looking forward to playing with guys from around the city."
Lee says winning is a fun part of the game and he's been learning about systems since he was a ten-year-old.
"When we were in Atom, I started to learn about systems. Our forecheck and our neutral zone system. But our coach this year, Neil Chow, he really focuses on skill development. Our practices are skills first and systems second," said Lee.
For Stelio Mattheos, who is averaging three points a game this season and is rated as a top prospect for the upcoming WHL draft, the all-star game is a chance to show what he's learned.
"To me, this is a chance to have fun and go up against the best of the city and see how you compare," said the 14-year-old forward with the Bantam 1 Monarchs. "I've played with lots of these guys before and it's fun to see how they're doing too. I'm just excited to take part."
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