The National Junior Team Development Camp wrapped up four days in Whistler with a standing ovation on Saturday following the second of two intense intrasquad games.
The development camp featured 44 of the top junior players from across Canada, a group that will be whittled down to 36 players for a second training camp in mid-December. A second round of cuts will reduce the team to a maximum of 25 players for the IIHF Junior World Championships being held in Vancouver from Dec. 26 to Jan. 3.
With only one returning player from last years gold medal team the junior squads roster is wide open, but with 18 first round draft picks there was no shortage of talent on the ice. In the intrasquad games, the players held nothing back in an effort to make an impression on the coaches.
Meadow Park manager Keith Tindle estimates that the crowds were between 500 and 600 for the intrasquad games with standing room only around the boards. Its the biggest event the arena has held since the 1996 World Cup team used Meadow Park for their training camp.
"It was really spectacular," said Tindle. "The intrasquad games on Friday and Saturday night were just hockey the way it should be played. The skill was high, because obviously these are the best kids in Canada, but the effort the players were putting into it was amazing. People were on the edge of their seats for the whole game the people who had seats that is, because it was standing room only."
Although Meadow Park is a small venue, it managed to meet the demands of the camp says Tindle. With medical rooms and equipment rooms the group used all four changing areas. "That inconvenienced some of our regular users, so we have to thank them for their patience. These guys are such a big group and they have so much equipment, they used about every square inch of space that was available, but they were happy and we managed to accommodate everything and everyone," said Tindle.
The condition of the ice was not perfect but as good as could be expected with temperatures over 30 degrees for each day of the camp, added Tindle.
Admission was free for all camp events, although community groups used the event for fundraising. Whistler Community Services and the Food Bank accepted donations at the door, while the Whistler Minor Hockey Association ran 50-50 draws and held a raffle.
The biggest benefit, says Tindle, is inspiring young hockey players to pursue their dreams.
"Every day the kids were there with their hats and magazines getting autographs, and the players were great," said Tindle. "Now we have kids who are saying they cant wait for hockey season to get underway again. (The junior players) were still pretty young themselves, so our young players could really relate to them."