Imagine playing a hockey tournament on an NHL rink against teams from across the globe – all at the ripe old age of 11 or 12. It’s a long sought after dream by players around the world, but can become a reality for 20 youngsters trying out for this year’s Junior Islanders. On Wednesday, June 20 and Thursday, June 21, the first of two summer tryouts for the team was held at Islanders Iceworks, the Official Practice Facility of the New York Islanders.
The Jr. Islanders are made up of Long Island pee-wee hockey players who are 11 and 12-years-old. Those who make the final roster represent Long Island in the annual Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament where teams from 16 different countries travel to compete. The 11-day tournament attracts over 200,000 fans to watch some of the best young hockey players in the world at Colisee Pepsi.
Former Islanders star Benoit Hogue has coached the Jr. Islanders and traveled to Quebec City with the team for the past several years and will lead them again this season.
“I had players last year that were scouted for the OHL team,” Hogue said. “That’s where many NHL draft picks are from which is why I want to start competing on the ice early and have these kids play their best. If they make the team and go to the tournament, the exposure for their future is going to be big.”
Islanders forward Matt Martin joined over 40 prospective Jr. Islanders and Coach Hogue on the ice during Thursday’s skating session.
“I’m sure it’s an exciting time for them,” Martin said. “I’m looking forward to seeing some of these guys on the Colisee ice. It’s good to play on an international level to see how you match up as both a player and team against different countries.”
The young players executed skating and puck handling drills before splitting into two teams to show their skills in a scrimmage.
“You need to have a good head to the game and be able to move the puck,” youth player Riley Brennan said. “The competition was pretty fierce but I think I did well.”
“I look at the kids who are going to go out and compete, who want to fight for the puck,” Hogue said. “I need team players who are capable of being aggressive and taking the puck to the net.”
All hopeful Jr. Islanders players must attend one of the two on-ice camps which will help the coaching staff determine the make-up of the team. Iceworks hosts the second camp in August, and the final, mandatory tryout is set for late September. All Long Island players born in either 2000 or 2001 are encouraged to try out and bring their A-game.
“Every year I go there I want to win it,” Hogue said. “I know this tournament is competitive and hard to win but in my head I go there to play hard and win some games.”
If Long Island’s best continues to show up for these tryouts at Iceworks, the Jr. Islanders have the chance to do more than that.