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Another successful AJHL Development Camp has come to an end, completing the league's fourth consecutive summer with the camp in place. Now in Red Deer, the camp allows players to showcase their skills in front of general managers, coaches and scouts from around the league; as well as help prepare them for the junior hockey level.
The camp is invitation only with 80 players receiving the call this summer and features 2003-born athletes who played in the AMMHL last season. The players invited to the camp are not currently on the protected list of any Western Hockey League (WHL) team. Players receive both on and off-ice development from AJHL staff and athletes. The on-ice portion consists of practice and game sessions, and the off-ice portion, includes team building and athleticism / mental skills.
The development camp has been hugely successful with the league being extremely proud of what it has been able to accomplish so far. One of the many success stories coming from the camp is Gunner Kinniburgh. Kinniburgh was undrafted in the Western Hockey League Bantam Draft and attended the league’s first development camp. Since the camp, he’s become an established AJHL player with over 100 games to his name.
“I remember being shy to start with all the new faces and everything else that was going on around me, but with the help of the group leaders and coaches along with the team building, we came together as a group,” said Gunner Kinniburgh. “With all that, it became a great week with good people helping you out along the way.”
Through attending the camp, Kinniburgh exposed himself to more eyes around the AJHL and caught one pair in particular in Tom Keca - former GM and head coach of the Fort McMurray Oil Barons. He then received an invitation to attend the Oil Barons training camp and competed for a roster spot. The Lethbridge, AB native went on to affiliate with the Oil Barons next season and became a full-time player the year after. From that same AJHL development camp, 33 players are now full-timers in the AJHL.
“The development camp was a high compete level and action-packed the entire week,” said Kinniburgh. “The seminars were great too. They explained what the life of an AJHL player is and gave you that extra inside look to see what it’s all about. All that together helped to prepare me for the next level.”
With plenty of experience in the league, Kinniburgh has now come full circle being a group leader at the development camp for the past two seasons. Jarred White and Will Zapernick of the Sherwood Park Crusaders join Kinniburgh at the camp as returning group leaders with Kaden Kanderka (Olds Grizzlys), Matt Raymond (Drumheller Dragons), Arjun Atwal (Sherwood Park Crusaders), Stanley Cooley (Spruce Grove Saints) and Cameron Mitchell (Spruce Grove Saints) all making their first appearances as leaders in Red Deer.
“As a player, you spend time with all these different coaches with all these different ideas which are helpful for your development,” Kinniburgh mentioned when talking about the opportunity the camp gives players to succeed at the next level.
After being a part of the Oil Barons organization for three years, Kinniburgh was moved this summer to the Lloydminster Bobcats. During his time in Northern Alberta, he played on a veteran Oil Barons roster that went on a couple of deep playoff runs and were highly competitive teams. With him now being a group leader at the development camps and more of a veteran in the room, he wants to pass on those experiences to others.
“Veteran players are good to be around, and we had a great group during my time with guys like J.C. Thivierge, Curtis Roach and especially Taner Miller,” said Kinniburgh. “Those guys helped out a lot and led the way. You see the things they do, and it makes you want to do more. You lead the way you’re led, and I’d say the same thing is going on here in Red Deer.”
With the camp now complete, the group leaders will turn their attention to the upcoming training camps with their own teams. For the camp attendees, they’ll be receiving invites from head coaches and general managers around the league to attend those same camps as they look to begin their junior hockey journey.
Story by Liam Horrobin