CORNER BROOK Dan Whitten believes he will graduate from minor hockey with fond memories because he made sure fun was foremost on his mind when he laced up his skates.
Whitten, son of Chris and Rhonda Whitten, is celebrating Minor Hockey Week in Newfoundland and Labrador just as heâs done since he started his minor hockey career in the Timbits division in the Labrador City Minor Hockey Association. Aânative of St. Johnâs, Whitten and his family moved to Labrador City early in his life, before eventually packing their bags for Corner Brook.
Having fun with the boys shooting pucks is all he ever wanted from the game and he got everything he envisioned.
âItâs always been about the love of the game absolutely,â Whitten said Thursday before heading to Port aux Basques for a high school hockey game with the Corner Brook Titans. âEverytime you step on the ice you just forget about everything else for the most part. You are just having a good time on the ice doing what you love.â
Whitten will finish out his minor hockey career registered in an association that experienced a slight drop in registration numbers this year. But, thatâs been a trend across the province, with Grand Falls-Windsor an exception to the rule with the number climbing again this year.
Whitten's advice to any young boy or girl getting involved with the game is to have realistic expectations and understand that itâs challenging to enjoy anything if it doesnât put a smile on your face.
âJust make the most of it,ââhe said, noting it didnât matter what level of hockey he was performing, he always left everything on the ice.
âHaving fun is the biggest thing of all. No matter what, make sure you have fun on the ice. Treat your teammates well and always leave it on the ice.â
Whitten has enjoyed learning life lessons in discipline, teamwork and the importance of giving 100 per cent all the time as he came up through the ranks. He also gets excited about the fact he managed to develop his skillset as a player while feeling no pressure to do more than he was capable of.
He has embraced the game as a great way to relieve the stresses of a teen and sees himself playing the game in adult life to keep engaged, but he also applauds those who take the game a tad more serious because they have aspirations to be an elite player.
âIf hockey is what they really love and they believe they can go places, then fine, but they also have to be prepared to accept the fact it might may not happen and you have to have a backup plan.â
Whitten has his sights set on university in the fall once he has his high school graduation out of the way. Heâs looking at attending the University of New Brunswick while looking at Memorial as an option.
No matter what happens, he believes his participation in minor hockey was a positive experience and certainly helped shape him into the young man he is today.
Hockey has also been a positive influence on a growing number of female players embracing the game from coast to coast, and Deer Lake native Olivia Janes is one of the girls celebrating the game with her friends during Minor Hockey Week.
The 17-year-old Level student at Elwood High School will graduate in June and pursue post-secondary studies at Memorial in St. Johnâs, so sheâs not sure what the future holds for her hockey pursuits even though she still eligible for play because the age limit for females is 20 years of age.
However, once she discovered the game she immediately saw so many things she liked about participating in the sport. She tried her hand at figure skating for a couple of years, but eventually gave it up. Her 22-year-old sister Rebekah Janes paved the way for her when she reflects back on her first game seven years ago.
âMy older sister started playing hockey and I watched her go through it,â she said. âI thought about and felt it would be something I would enjoy and then I got into it and I love it.â
Deer Lakeâs minor hockey system had a slight increase in the registration numbers this year with 30 new players, pushing the total to 247 for the 2013-14 minor hockey season. Suiting up for the Deer Lake Under-20 team this season, Janes encourages other girls with even the slightest interest in playing to take the next step.
âEven if you have a little bit of interest, go and try it out. Even if you donât know if youâll like it or not because you might be surprised,â she said. âI started when I was 12 and I wish I had started sooner so I would have more skill ... Iâm not a bad hockey player as it is, but still I wish I had those younger years because those are the years that make you a really good athlete Iâthink.â
Itâs no secret minor hockey had it share of challenges with the numbers, and her association didnât have the luxury of not seeing a slight drop like the majority of centres this year.
Janes encourages the young players to embrace the game with a smile on their face because fun is the key to keeping the game going for all boys and girls, no matter where they call home.
âJust have fun with it,â she said. âThe most important thing isnât to be the best one on the ice or anything, itâs just to go out, be active and have fun, and be sure to make some friends while youâre at it.â
*** Story edited following initial posting ***