The youngest members of Prince George’s revamped Cariboo Hockey program got a once-in-a-lifetime experience this past weekend.
BC Hockey scheduled the North Central Bantam AA Bobcats to play a pair of road games in Whitehorse against the Yukon Rivermen and while the primary purpose of the trip was to hopefully gain four points in the standings, the team also saw an opportunity to bond.
Head Coach Brent McIsaac says his young group of teenagers were thrilled to play competitive hockey in one of Canada’s territories, while also experiencing a new culture and landscape.
“It’s always exciting when you can change things up a little bit rather than riding the bus and, you know, having that big league feel to it with the boys getting on the plane and traveling by air, that added to the excitement,” said McIsaac in an interview with PrinceGeorgeMatters.
He adds Yukon had much to offer for the Bantam AA Bobcats, a team consisting of 13- and 14-year-olds, who were appreciative of the local hospitality on and off the ice.
“We stayed in a cabin-type setting where we had players bunking in the same rooms, which was pretty unique as opposed to a traditional hotel,” McIsaac explained.
“We were able to spend some time in some hot springs in the evenings and, you know, they have a facility that was built up there for the  Canada Winter Games, so we had an opportunity to come together with the Yukon Rivermen and play a bunch of sports [...] that’s the big part of what hockey is. We go to war on ice, sorta speak, and compete against each other and do what it takes to win games, but at the end of the day, there’s a common respect between players and we were able to meet some new friends and connect with the kids there too.”
The trip also brought relief to the Bobcats, finally earning their inaugural win of the 2019-20 season by beating the Rivermen in a high-scoring 7-5 contest.
Team-scoring leader Hunter Potskin recorded a goal and two assists to make it seven points in six games for the Prince George product, while Brady Mackay was the winning goaltender.
A day earlier, the bantam AAs were ousted 4-1 by Yukon for the weekend split.
“Part of what we do with these kids is that we’re really focused on their development and growth as individual people, hockey players and students,” said Coach McIsaac.
“So regardless of where we go, our approach is pretty much the same, and we’re very focused on the process with these kids. We need to make sure their development is streamlined and going at the fastest rate possible.”
Cariboo Hockey is in its first season with the six-team umbrella, but this is the second year a Prince George bantam program faced a team from the Yukon territory when they were added to BC Hockey’s regiment.
McIsaac says bonding as a collective northern region is critical for players at this stage as some of the kids who develop in Whitehorse may get the chance to come to Prince George and move up the ranks.
“They’re a welcomed addition to the Cariboo Hockey program as a whole,” McIsaac added.
“We’ve got them, the North East region and ourselves. It’s great to get the kids to meet each other and get to see where we all come from and at the end of the day, a lot of these kids will all play with each other in the future down the road with Cariboo Hockey.”
When asked if there are plans to go back to Yukon in 2020, McIsaac said that’s up to BC Hockey, but would welcome the opportunity for the next crop of bantam players.