Up-and-coming Northwest Territories hockey hero Shaun MacPherson, 20, spent last week touring the South Slave region, meeting with young fans for a day of drills and life skills.
The tour, organized by the department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA), started at the Hay River reserve on July 8, with stops in Fort Resolution and Fort Providence before wrapping up in the Portland Winterhawk defenceman’s hometown of Fort Smith on July 11.
“I’ve never really done anything like this so it’s been a lot of fun so far,” MacPherson said. “I just try and tell them what works for me to become a hockey player or an athlete and it’s the same if they don’t play hockey – if they’re a soccer player or something else, it’s all the same stuff.”
The flow of the visit was similar in each town. First, MacPherson told his youthful audience about moving from his small town to Edmonton at the age of 14, to give him a better shot at being seen by scouts. He spoke of his ups and downs, playing on midget teams for three years before any professional leagues paid attention. He shared a story of determination and hard work before he was finally picked up by the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League at 18, followed by a run with his Western Hockey League team.
Next, MacPherson brandished his 2012 WHL championship ring, won during his first year of playing for the Winterhawks. He passed it around so attending youth and their parents could ogle the symbol of his early success.
Finally, the kids picked up their sticks and learned dexterity drills before playing a friendly street hockey game with MacPherson. Smoke warnings and poor weather forced most of the groups to play indoors, but Fort Smith youth were lucky enough to play under the sun in the lot of the town’s recreation centre.
MACA youth tours
Peter Daniels, regional youth and volunteer officer for the South Slave region, was the force behind what he calls a “successful” tour, with at least 15 participants showing up at each stop. He promised similar meet and greet tours for youth in the future, including another experience with MacPherson and potentially other NWT hockey players next summer.
“It’s been great for Shaun; the kids have just been receiving him very positively,” Daniels said. “Shaun being born and raised here in Smith and succeeding in hockey the way he has, kids know who he is and I think it makes a bigger impact.”
He noted that in the past, similar tours had been conducted with non-Northerners, but he believes showcasing local talent gives kids “more bang for their buck.”
Looking ahead at 2014/15 season
There won’t be any rest for the rising hockey player any time soon. He visited with family and friends in Fort Smith for the weekend before returning to Edmonton to help run a summer hockey camp for kids at the University of Alberta rink.
As for his own hockey career, MacPherson says he hopes to rejoin the Winterhawks for the 2014-2015 season, though the competition might be more stiff this year. WHL teams are only allowed to have three players aged 20 and over, and MacPherson knows he is angling for a tough spot.
He hopes for the best, but if all else fails MacPherson said he would be happy to play for his Junior Hockey League team, the Saskatchewan-based Kindersley Klippers.