Kids get a day in the big leagues

Sandy Bay high school hockey team gets practice session with Jets coaching staff

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The passes weren’t quite as crisp. The skating not nearly as fast. And the shots certainly weren’t as hard. But there’s no question the joy level was as high as Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice and his staff have ever seen as they hit the ice Monday afternoon for a memorable practice session.

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This article was published 17/02/2020 (1017 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The passes weren’t quite as crisp. The skating not nearly as fast. And the shots certainly weren’t as hard. But there’s no question the joy level was as high as Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice and his staff have ever seen as they hit the ice Monday afternoon for a memorable practice session.

Standing before them were the wide-eyed members of the Sandy Bay Badgers, a high school hockey team comprised of teenagers from both Sandy Bay First Nation and Gladstone. The two dozen players and their own coaches were treated to a day in the life of an NHL player as part of a charity experience that had been won and then donated by Richard De La Ronde, the executive director of Sandy Bay Child and Family Services.

A luxury bus ride into the big city. A catered lunch. A classroom video session. And an hour-long skate at Bell MTS Iceplex where they were put through the paces by Winnipeg’s bench bosses while wearing authentic Jets practice jerseys. 

mike mcintyre / winnipeg free press Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice gives some instruction to Sandy Bay Badgers players Monday afternoon following a Jets workout.

“It was awesome. Couldn’t get any better than that,” a beaming Ethan Winters told the Free Press as he stepped off the ice. The Grade 12 forward said he and his teammates upped their intensity as a result.

“Our drills in practice with our own coaches, we couldn’t do that. So guys kind of brought their brains today,” said Winters.

Indeed, Maurice and company didn’t hold back, putting the Badgers through several of the same drills they run on a regular basis with the Jets. That included three-on-two and two-on-one rush drills along with some puck battle competitions. 

“He said he was going to run the practice like the Jets. And I’m pretty happy that they did. I’m actually kind of shocked they did what they did. In our practice we spend maybe half an hour on one drill, but they actually did 10 minutes a drill here. That was fast,” said Badgers head coach and manager Magnus Mousseau.

At one point, Maurice, associate coach Jamie Kompon and assistant coach Todd Woodcroft took the forwards to one end of the ice for some specialized instruction, while assistant coach Charlie Huddy worked with the defencemen and goalie coach Wade Flaherty did some individual coaching with the two Sandy Bay netminders. 

“This was unbelievable. Even as coaches just to stand here and learn, be on the ice and learn with them. The 10 minutes they got with the goalies is going to help them a long ways. And I know our D men and our forwards are going to take a lot from this,” said Mousseau. 

One of the highlights was sitting down to watch Maurice go through video of Sunday night’s 3-2 win over Chicago. He ran the same film session earlier in the day before Jets practice, then repeated it with the Badgers.

“It was amazing. Never seen anything like that before,” said 16-year-old forward Keelin Levasseur, adding it must be “kinda crappy” to have to have your play dissected in such a manner. 

That’s why they get paid the big bucks, kid. Comes with the territory. 

“You could just see their eyes open. They were really excited,” said James Spence, who founded the Badgers three seasons ago when he realized so many kids in the community had no option to continue playing hockey once they hit Bantam age. 

They were welcomed into the Westman High School Hockey League, a 20-team loop where they’re currently enjoying their best season at 19-4-0, good for first in their division and fourth overall behind Killarney, Dauphin and Major Pratt in Rossburn. 

“It’s just great for the kids, just great to see the enthusiasm in their eyes and what it takes to be at an NHL level,” said Spence, whose grandson, Raymond, is a Grade 10 defenceman on the team.

Maurice could be heard barking orders to the players at various times, careful to keep the language more of the PG variety. He and his bench mates slapped their sticks and cheered at every solid play, and pulled numerous kids aside for some one-on-one chats, not unlike what they do on a daily basis with Jets skaters. 

“One drill Paul was really trying to get the boys to understand is going into the corner, picking the pucks up and moving it quickly. He said a lot of the players who get to the NHL level don’t even know how to do that properly. So he really wanted to make that a point to the boys,” said Mousseau. 

“The video session alone probably taught them a lot. What Paul Maurice was talking about, about getting pucks to the net rather than trying to make the plays on the outside. It’s more important in the game and as teams moves forward.”

Once it was done, a sweat-drenched Winters said it was an experience he won’t forget.

“The best coach I’ve had. Just running practice, he’s pretty laid back but you’ve got to work hard,” said Winters.

“Hey, you get NHL coaching all the time!” joked Mousseau, who was more than happy to take a step back and play second fiddle on this special day.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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