This is where the rubber meets the ice for elite young hockey players.
Scouts for the Western Hockey League bantam draft and for Junior A teams intently watch the action at the annual Rick LaPointe Memorial Bantam Triple-A Showcase and occasionally peer down to jot things in their notebooks.
Keeping the players focused on the ice and not on the stands can be a major hurdle for the coaches.
It is a challenge for sure, said Okanagan Hockey Academy head coach Mike Needham, after his squad blanked the Cowichan Valley Capitals 4-0 Thursday at Pearkes Arena.
You tell them to focus on their individual play and nothing else, added Needham, who played 100 regular-season and playoff games in the NHL and won the Stanley Cup in 1992 with Pittsburgh.
Your skill will take care of itself as far as the scouts go.
The Penticton-based Okanagan academy team brings together top bantam players from the Island, Lower Mainland, Okanagan, Alberta and the United States. These are the kind of kids who feel they are good enough to move along in the sport to higher levels, which makes trying to impress the notebook scribblers all the more imperative.
You dont get [the scouts] out of the players minds. We teach the kids how to compartmentalize it, said assistant coach and former Vancouver Canucks forward Dixon Ward, another former NHLer on the Okanagan academy bench.
Focus on the details of the game and the process and the approach to the game, added the NCAA graduate of North Dakota, who played 599 NHL regular season and playoff games.
Learn to deal with the rest of the stuff [scouts] by competing in a positive way. Thats the battle at this level.
Forward Beck Malenstyn of Okanagan Academy was outstanding against Cowichan Valley and showed why he is considered a potential first-round pick for the 2013 bantam draft.
Cowichan Valley, which opened earlier in the day with a 5-1 victory over the Cloverdale Colts, gave a good account of itself against the Okanagan academy juggernaut.
We dont mention the scouts. We tell the players just to play your game and everything else will work out, said Cowichan Valley head coach Derek Topping, whose club skates in the six-team Island Triple-A Bantam League and is led by standout defenceman Josh Anderson and goaltender Ty Rennie.
We want the players to enjoy the season and improve and to gain momentum for those kids who want to move on, added Topping, who noted only two or three players from an average bantam triple-A roster will go on to play major junior or Junior A.
Its been a lot of fun and very rewarding to watch the players come up and grow.
Eight teams are chasing after the LaPointe Showcase trophy, with most of the games taking place at the UVic Ian Stewart Complex.
Okanagan academy, Cowichan Valley, Cloverdale and the Hollyburn Huskies are in Pool A, while the Seafair Islanders of Richmond, Wenatchee Junior Wild of Washington state, Surrey Thunder and host Racquet Club Kings are in Pool B.
The round-robin continues this morning with the playoff round beginning at 1:30 p.m. The gold-medal game is scheduled for Sunday at 2:45 p.m.
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