BWC featured on Ron McLean’s’ Hometown Hockey

in Other News

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Roger’s Hometown Hockey, a new hockey road show hosted by former CBC Hockey Night in Canada star, Ron Maclean, is coming to Burnaby this weekend. The event is part of the new all-encompassing, multi-channel, multi-game Rogers Sportsnet hockey broadcast program, which will feature the Leafs – Sens game at 3:00 pm Sunday, and then the Canucks Anaheim game at 6:00 pm.

There’s Mathew Barzal, widely expected to go in the top 10 of next spring’s NHL entry draft. He was selected by the Seattle Thunderbirds first overall in the 2012 bantam draft.

Then there’s 16-year-old Dante Fabbro, a blue-chip prospect currently playing for the Penticton Vees in the BCHL, also a first round WHL pick (8th in 2013).

The quick, sharp-shooting defenceman is an even stronger prospect than Nugent-Hopkins and Barzal, according to Batchelor, head coach of the AAA bantam squad at the Burnaby Winter Club, an established hockey factory with 70 alumni playing at the Junior A to NHL levels.

It’s flukey when any single province churns out a cluster of players this good, but looks especially so in the case of British Columbia, once hockey’s hinterland. So how did one coach, and a single club, produce such a staggering wealth of talent?

The recipe can be distilled to four simple points. For starters: small group size. The club caps its younger teams at 12 players, where a typical minor hockey roster pushes 20. Then there’s intense study: By peewee, players are on the ice five times a week to go along with a weekly dryland session.

Next on the list, perhaps counter-intuitively, are the club’s two small training rinks. The small-ice model, which Winter Club and NHL alum Cliff Ronning says produces quicker, more agile players, is currently in vogue at Hockey Canada and with most NHL teams, but it’s been the norm at the Club for decades.

Finally, the Winter Club relies on its stable of high-level coaches. People who understand that while the exceptionally gifted, athletic kids they’re training “may look 15, they’re still nine-year-old boys, emotionally,” says incoming hockey director Maco Balkovec, recruited from Wisconsin where he was one of the state’s top youth hockey coaches.

It’s no accident Batchelor is coaching bantam, a key transition division, where players move from minor to junior hockey.

It’s also the age at which Batchelor, a former army brat and youth hockey star, fell in with the wrong crowd after moving to Vancouver with his family. British Columbia was hockey-starved at the time, and he feels a team, and a mentor like a coach, might have kept him from “going off the rails.” Batchelor believes he can have a “huge impact” on his players’ lives, both on and off the ice.

The most important lesson he tries to impart is to treat every game, and every shift, like it’s your last. “You never know what’s around the corner—when it’ll all be over.”

It’s a lesson Batchelor, part-owner of a Lower Mainland waste-disposal business, knows all too well as his wife is battling the most severe, debilitating form of multiple sclerosis.

Like his players, Batchelor is on the ice year-round, and he pours every penny he earns running a summer hockey school back into his bantam squad.

His business brings in enough money, he says. “And the game has given me so much, especially during the tough times,” he adds, reflecting on his wife’s illness. “For a little while, it lets me forget all that.