In junior hockey, hockey players come and go at a torrent pace. Someone will always remember that young kid with the big smile who played two seasons, or the over-ager who powers the team to a championship. Some players become something of a legend for the team they play with. It’s always sad to say goodbye to key members of a team, but the most interesting part about junior hockey is it’s merely the beginning for many players.
A key piece of the hockey machine
The Bonnyville Jr. A Pontiacs organization knows very well that they play a pivotal role in developing young talent. The AJHL is a league built on development. Only two AJHL players were drafted by NHL clubs in 2016. Cale Makar (Brooks Bandits) will make some waves this summer for the AJHL at the NHL draft in Chicago on June 23. The point remains, the majority of these kids are not leaving the AJHL with an NHL contract in hand.
The Pontiacs have turned their system into one that develops kids into well-rounded adults who are ready to contribute at the next level. In Rick Swan’s time with the Bonnyville Pontiacs, 43 players have committed to play at the college level. These players go to college league’s like the NCAA Div 1 + Div 3, the CIS, and ACAC. There’s also the kids who move on to play in the Canadian Hockey League.
Pontiacs beyond the boards
Although hockey players come to Bonnyville to primarily play hockey, they do much more than skate and battle for pucks. Giving back to the community is an important part of being a Bonnyville Pontiac. The organization stresses how much giving back can do for the players.
“It’s both character and ability. We know with character and ability, these guys will make an impact in our community. When they do that, that’s something the NCAA schools recognize right away. They want good people.” Swan explains about the importance of being community minded.
Community is a focus
The Pontiacs work with minor hockey organizations all over the Lakeland and reach as far south as Mannville. It doesn’t always have to be hockey to have Pontiacs volunteer. In February, the Pontiacs participated in their third annual Tip A Pontiac night at Mr. Mike’s in support of KidSport.
“I think we give back more in the community than any other sports team. We have given back 5500 hours to the Bonnyville and Lakeland community in the last three years,” being a contributing member of society is just as important as contributing on the ice, explains Swan, “Our players need to know when they come here, that there’s an expectation that they be a better person by making sure they serve others, and that’s leadership. That’s what we want to be known for with our culture.”
Waiting in the wings
This upcoming weekend (May 26-28) the Pontiacs will host their spring camp. This is the first step the organization takes at identifying which players will become part of the Pontiacs culture come September.