Midget ‘AA’ program on solid ground in first season

The Fort Frances Canadians, a ‘AA’ Midget team comprised mainly of 16 and 17-year-olds, have been very respectable in their first season under former pro player and NHL coach Dave Allison.
The brainchild of Tom Koski, the new Midget ‘AA’ team has compiled an impressive 18-9 record so far this season in exhibition games and tournaments, including a loss in the consolation final at a tourney in Brandon most recently.
But Allison said the team’s success goes far beyond wins and losses. Rather, the way the players have handled themselves–on and off the ice–representing Fort Frances on the road that has impressed him the most.
“You can’t judge a team by wins and losses, you judge them on how they handle themselves on the ice,” he said late last week. “It gives them a comparable place to play hockey, but first and foremost, it teaches the kids to respect themselves and the game of hockey.”
Allison said he’s seen a huge improvement in the players’ attitude and respect towards each other and the game. “The kids have progressed and that’s what’s made it fun,” he noted.
The team carries just 15 players–eight forwards, five defencemen, and two goalies–but they are not solely a Fort Frances team. In fact, five hail from Atikokan and two others from Emo.
Allison said it’s the support from all three communities that has enabled the team to achieve so much success in just one year.
“We couldn’t have done it without the accumulative support from the three communities,” he stressed. “Dave Egan and Tom Koski put the program together and the support from the off-ice people has been great.
“We’ve had great co-operation from the parents, and like anything, if it is done for the right reasons, it will flourish,” he remarked.
The team also has benefited from a strong trio of sponsors–Investor’s Group, the Fort Duty Free Shop, and Skates & Blades.
“We’re also the sharpest team wherever we go with those pullovers we wear–we look like a team,” Allison enthused.
Part of the reason behind resurrecting a ‘AA’ Midget program here was to provide graduating Bantam ‘AA’ players from the B•Macs who didn’t make the Muskie squad a chance to continue playing at an elite level.
And it’s a system that has been tremendously successful so far.
“Everyone strives to play for the Muskies,” noted Allison. “This [team] allows the Muskies to [ice] a smaller lineup while not having to carry five forward lines and eight defencemen.
“They can still play a prominent role on a hockey team and play competitive,” he added.
General manager Gus Lindberg agreed the squad gives the players another option for playing competitive hockey here. And he warned the Canadians aren’t too far off the calibre of the OFSAA-bound Muskies.
“The intention was to give young people a chance to play competitive hockey and help groom the players who didn’t make high school hockey,” Lindberg said, adding he didn’t feel the local Midget ‘A’ program was satisfying the players’ needs in past years.
“It’s just a step below the Muskies; and if you took off the 18-year-olds, they would be competitive,” he stressed.
Lindberg also felt the program’s success in its inaugural season hinged on having surrounded the team with good people.
“Dave Allison brings credibility to the program with his name and reputation, and the kids have that much more interest in what he says,” he said, adding the team also has benefited from the help of Greg Tighe, Jim Kilmister, Koski, and Egan.
“I’m really quite impressed with the leadership of Dave Allison,” echoed Koski. “Number one, he has real good desire and he’s a real good coach.
“The team is a real good drawing program for the Muskies–the team has done exactly what we asked and more,” he added.
The Canadians wrap up their season with a best-of-three playoff against a Thunder Bay team in Atikokan later this month, then will compete in an Assiniboine Park Ranger tournament in Winnipeg in early April.