Though the goal for hockey players is to have their career trajectory constantly moving upwards, it’s not always a smooth line. At certain points in players’ careers, what’s required to keep moving forward isn’t so much a step as it is a jump.
That’s particularly true for players moving from U15 to U18, players transitioning from U18 to junior or college hockey, and players climbing from junior and college to the pro level. For the Jets Hockey Development (JHD) team at hockey for all centre, prepping players for those jumps through summer hockey camps and training sessions is a big part of their job.
Having spent plenty of time training junior and junior prospect players, Head On-ice Instructor & Program Manager of JHD Dave Cameron notes that the jump from U18 hockey to junior and college teams can provide some particular challenges for athletes.
“Players get faster, and the game gets faster,” noted Cameron. “You’re suddenly playing against players who are potentially 20 years old, so there’s a size and strength factor that’s different than you’ve ever seen before. As a young player making that jump, the age gap is just so big that you really have to be prepared to do things at another level than you’ve done them at before.”
It’s easy to only focus on skills like speed and strength as mentioned in Cameron’s observation of what’s needed at the junior level, but what can easily be lost is his note about being prepared. Developing that speed and strength doesn’t happen by chance – it’s done through consistent dedication to the game and a strong commitment to getting better.
JHD provides a place where players can do that preparing during the off-season, and one athlete who has spent countless hours preparing his game at the Iceplex – specifically the Iceplex’s Ice Lab goalie training facility – is goaltender Carson Cherepak. He’s currently starting goaltender for the Dauphin Kings of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, and in only his first year in the MJHL and second year of junior hockey, he took home this season’s Ed Belfour Top Goaltender award for the league.
“It’s a nice pat on the back and shows that I’m doing the right things and heading in the right direction, but you want to win the league too,” Cherepak said, clearly focused on higher aspirations amid a first round MJHL playoff matchup between his Dauphin Kings and the Swan Valley Stampeders.
Getting to that point has been no cakewalk for Cherepak. That award is courtesy of years of training at the Ice Lab with Manager of Goalie Development Andy Kollar, including plenty of summer programs – from one-on-one sessions on the Ice Lab’s 45-foot by 37-foot specialized ice surface, to big ice sessions that have goalies honing their craft on regular-sized rinks.
From day one, Kollar has seen Cherepak’s determined work ethic and consistent forward focus. Early on, though, it felt like there was a lot of preparing without the reward. Cherepak didn’t make the cut at the AAA level until he was 16.
“It seemed like he was always getting cut but he was giving it everything he could,” said Kollar. “He kept pushing past the upset feelings to ask what he could do better to not get cut and be a better goalie. Even as he got older and he was getting better, he still wasn’t making the teams. But he kept working, and his play finally paid off – somebody finally noticed him and gave him a chance.”
Throughout those challenges, Cherepak kept that preparation mindset, using every cut as more fuel in his engine. When he did finally make that AAA roster at 16, he won goalie of the year for the Winnipeg AAA Hockey League and followed that up with a player of the year nod the next season. None of his success has taken that focus on preparation away from him though.
“A lot of the time when I do get to go to the Ice Lab, it’s fine tuning,” said Cherepak, noting that by playing in Dauphin, summers have become his only chance to train at the Ice Lab. “We know the areas that I need to improve on. Andy watches all my games, so if there’s something that we feel needs to be addressed, we’ll address it, but a lot of it is doing the stuff that we’ve been doing this whole time like puck tracking, puck handling, and rebound control – all the little things. It sounds basic, but that’s the stuff you have to be really good at to be elite.”
Cherepak will be entering this off-season of training at the Iceplex with his laser-like focus set on another jump – this time with hopes to make a Division 1 college team in the US.
Kollar knows how big a challenge that may be. But he’s seen Cherepak face his fair share of challenges already and push past them.
“Carson’s had a long road, but he hasn’t seen it as a struggle. He’s always thinking about where he can go, what he can do, and how he can do it. The quote we often use is, ‘Lazy people do little work and think they should be winning, but winners work as hard as possible and still worry if they’re being lazy.’”
That’s the mentality Cherepak will have, and it’s one that all hockey players need to make those jumps in their careers.
“Set your own training goals,” Cameron advised. “Don’t follow others because they’re doing something that works for them. Just look in the mirror and decide what you want to get better at and focus on those things as your career goes.”
Make the next jump in your game by joining Jets Hockey Development for one or more of their many training programs this summer. Find a full list of programs for players of all ages at BellMTSIceplex.ca.