Homer Alaska - Sports

Story last updated at 4:54 PM on Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Homer Peewees play in Canada

But this week's trip to Edmonton about so much more than hockey

BY Hal Spence
For the Homer News


Photo by McKibben Jackinsky, Homer News

The Glacier Kings, Homer's Peewee hockey team, pose for a picture last week. In the back row, from left, are Robby Larson, Dimitry Kuzmin, Adam Brinster, Lauren Cardwell, Charlie Menke, Brenden Fuson, Levi King, Ali McCarron and Coach Travis Larson; in the front row, from left, are Brenna McCarron, Clark Bolin, Troy Anderson, Spencer Warren, Douglas Dean and Mychaela Pitta. Not pictured are Bradley Bordner and Woape Huffman.

Carving grooves at a rival's rink is a relatively rare affair for most Homer peewee hockey players. They don't very often travel outside Homer.

This week, that all changed. Fifteen boys and girls, all fifth- through seventh-graders, left Monday for some truly foreign ice. Along with their coaches Travis Larson and Rick Pitta, they were headed to Edmonton in Alberta, Canada, for the Peewee division of the Confederation Hockey Christmas Tournament.

The Glacier Kings will be there through Jan. 4, and are due to arrive back in Homer on Jan. 5, having played at least eight and possibly as many as 10 games against Canadian Peewees. Two of the games had yet to be scheduled as of late last week.

"They're pretty excited," Larson said in an interview the Friday before Christmas. "No Homer team has ever traveled outside Alaska."

The trip had to be OK'd at the local and state levels. No one on the Homer board opposed the trip, and all that was needed at the state level, Larson said, was to determine that all the Homer skaters were registered with USA Hockey, so they'd be covered by insurance.

The Glacier Kings roster lists four girls and 11 boys, ages 10 through 12. They include Troy Anderson, Clark Bolin, Bradley Bordner, Adam Brinster, Lauren Cardwell, Douglas Dean, Brenden Fuson, Woape Huffman, Dimitry Kuzmin, Robert Larson, Alison McCarron, Brenna McCarron, Charlie Menke, Mychaela Pitta and Spencer Warren.

"They've been fund raising, practicing and listening to their coaches, all in preparation," Larson said. "The Canadian teams and communities are also very excited that a team from Homer, Alaska, is coming to play them."

The puck dropped on the Glacier Kings' first game against the St. Albert Hammerheads at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday. Homer lost by a score of 6 to 3.

Of some concern for coaches was just how good the Canadian competition was likely to be. USA Hockey has four tiers. The Glacier Kings are a Class C team in Tier 3, though Larson said there are a few skaters who could play at a higher level. In Canada, there are 11 tiers among Peewees. Deciding just which Canadian teams Homer should play took some research and thought.

"We made an educated guess," Larson said. "Maybe we'll baffle them with our unorganized play."

Larson expects the competition to be very good. With a big-city's pool of players, Edmonton sports 116 peewee teams. In all of Alaska there may be 25 or 30. That's OK, though. This trip is all about facing what are likely much more experienced players on better organized teams and seeing how Homer players stack up, he said.

Larson has coached hockey for six years and is the coordinator of the adult league in Homer. Asked what the best thing was about coaching the sport, he said there were so many positives it was difficult to pin down a number one.

"I guess being a positive role model and teaching a sport that transforms and teaches about life; teaching kids how to be better young adults."

When it comes to experience at coaching, Larson defers to Homer Coach Rick Pitta who brings a wealth of it to Homer Hockey.

Pitta, who has professional hockey experience, said he came to Alaska in 1984 to play hockey in Fairbanks. He went on to become an assistant coach at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and later at the Anchorage campus. He has served as CEO of the Alaska Hockey Association, and coached the Williams Lake Timberwolves of the British Columbia Hockey League for three seasons between 2002 and 2005.

"I said I'd never coach again until Travis talked me into it," he said.

It probably wasn't that hard an arm twist. Glacier Kings' team member Mychaela Pitta is his daughter.

For Rick, the trip to Edmonton is an opportunity for the youngsters not only to gain valuable hockey knowledge, but more importantly, a unique life experience, a chance to comport themselves well and represent their state, their hometown and the Homer Hockey Association.

Hockey in Canada is like baseball and football in the United States. Youth hockey programs are well structured and organized. The sport is often dinner table conversation.

"It will be good for them (Homer) to see kids in another country, especially where hockey is the pastime," he said. "They'll see hockey played like they've never seen before."

On the other hand, Alaskans aren't exactly novices when it comes to rough-house hockey. It is, after all, one of our favorite winter sports. Some 130 to 150 youngsters play at various levels on a regular basis at Homer's full-sized Kevin Bell Ice Arena on the Spit.

That fact had Hammerheads Coach Scott Seibel voicing some caution last Friday when it came to predicting the outcome of Wednesday's opening contest. He said he wanted as even a contest as possible, whichever way it goes.

"I hope they don't get whipped, and I hope they don't do the whipping," he said of the traveling Homer squad.

Still, it is certainly true that hockey is Canada's favorite sport and that his kids play a lot of it, Seibel said. St. Albert, a city of 58,000 just 10 kilometers from Edmonton, has 18 peewee teams of its own, he said.

"Anywhere you go, it's not football or fishing. It's hockey. You've got your hockey nuts here just like anywhere," Seibel said. "St. Albert (hockey) has been pretty strong."

Seibel won't be in Edmonton for the tournament. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your take), he and his family will be in Orlando, Fla., for the holidays. "The other coaches and the kids are very excited" about meeting and playing the Homer team, he said.

Homer players will get a taste of international hospitality as well. Seibel said a couple of local brothers, grades 5 and 7, will sing the respective national anthems and the mayor of St. Albert will officiate at the ceremonial puck-drop.

On the ice, there may be a bit less ceremony. A recent rule change within USA Hockey banned checking at the Peewee level, but the Canadian equivalent level continues the practice, so games there could be physical affairs. Checking is permitted under USA Hockey rules for Bantams, the level above Peewee.

Acquiring the wherewithal to manage the trip's costs and logistics required a lot of participation by the players, Larson said.

"We started fundraising in the summer right after school started," he said. "We did a fishing trip on my boat where we had about 13 to 15 people on a day halibut charter. The kids were deckhands and baited hooks for people."

They also had a steak dinner and silent auction at the American Legion hall where the kids served as dishwashers.

All-in-all, the players raised just shy of $6,000, money that went to cover hotel rooms, food and the like. Parents assumed cost of airline tickets, he said.

Between stints on the ice against Canadian Peewees, the Homer hockey players are in for some real treats. The World Junior Hockey Championships are under way in Edmonton at the same time as the youth tournament. The Glacier Kings will get to watch the U.S. team practice tonight and meet the players and coaches. On Friday afternoon, they'll be in the stands to see the U.S. play the Czech Republic, and then again on Saturday to see the U.S. play Canada. They'll be looking for some fireworks New Year's Eve.

Steve Dean, who serves as the Glacier Kings' manager, did not make the trip to Edmonton, but his son Douglas did. He credited Larson and Pitta for "having the gumption" to take 15 kids on such a journey.

"It took a lot of initiative to put it all together," he said. "And for the kids, it's not just the hockey ... but the chance to be exposed to a different culture. It's great."

Homer fans may follow the exploits of the Glacier Kings on a Facebook page designed for the purpose. Larson said there should be plenty of pictures and perhaps video. On Facebook, go to http://www.facebook.com/groups/328495153828954/

Hal Spence is a freelance writer who lives in Homer.