Sunday, July 22, 2012

Daily News Sports Editor
This hockey offseason has been anything but for Jason Becker. Not that he minds.
Becker, a 38-year-old native of Saskatoon, arrived in Kamloops on Sunday afternoon to begin final preparations for the Team Pacific camp that will run from Wednesday through Sunday at the McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre.
In his other life, Becker is the lead assistant coach with the WHL’s Prince George Cougars.
After last season, he was named head coach of Team Pacific, a squad that will play in the U-17 World Hockey Challenge in Drummondville and Victoriaville, Que., Dec. 28 through Jan. 4.
There will be 68 players, 34 from each of Alberta and B.C., at this week’s camp.
“I’ve seen all of them since the end of the season,” Becker said.
He was at B.C.’s U-17 camp in Salmon Arm from May 8-13 and, two weeks later, attended Alberta’s camp in Leduc.
“It was a big deal for me to go over there,” Becker said, referencing the fact that it hasn’t been common practice for a coach from one province to cross over into the other province in these situations. “Hockey Alberta was very accommodating.”
Becker was quick to add that also has had a lot of help from Wade Klippenstein, who is Team Pacific’s head scout and also is the Cougars’ assistant GM and director of player personnel.
“Wade is pretty much in charge of watching the players and doing the reports,” said Becker, who has two assistant coaches — Steve Hamilton of the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings and Brandon West of the BCHL’s Salmon Arm SilverBacks. “He has been watching these guys for two years already so he knows all the background.”
The camp opens with registration on Wednesday, 12:30 p.m. The rest of the day will be taken up with meetings, fitness testing and evening practices.
On each of the next three days, each team will practice for an hour and be involved in a two-hour game. The games will be of the serious variety, too, because there will be championship and third-place games on Sunday.
“I don’t think anyone is on the team right now,,” Becker said. “But a player certainly will be able to help his cause at this camp.
“We want the kids to compete their best and play their hardest. This is a short-term competition so should give us some insight into how they would do in the competition in Quebec.
“But they all have a clean slate right now. We will grade them on how they do here.”
Six of the players in camp are from Kamloops. Defenceman Joe Hicketts, who will be trying to crack the roster of the WHL’s Victoria Royals, and forward Ryan Gropp (BCHL-Penticton Vees) are on Team Black. Defenceman Matt Murray, whose WHL rights belong to the Kootenay Ice, is on Team Grey. Goaltender Liam McLeod, a bantam draft pick by the Kamloops Blazers in 2011, defenceman Carter Cochrane, an Everett Silvertips’ prospect, and forward Chad Butcher, whose WHL rights belong to the Medicine Hat Tigers, are on Team Red.
Becker played for the Saskatoon Blades, Red Deer Rebels, Kamloops and Swift Current Broncos from 1990-95 before going on to spent three seasons at the U of Saskatchewan. He then played nine seasons of pro hockey, eight of them in Europe, before turning to coaching.
Becker has been on the Cougars’ coaching staff, working alongside head coach Dean Clark, since December 2009.
JUST NOTES: Games will be held Thursday through Saturday at 6 and 8:15 p.m. On Sunday, the third-place game is scheduled for 9 a.m., with the championship game at 1:15 p.m. . . . D Connor Clouston of Medicine Hat, a third-round selection by the Blazers in the 2011 bantam draft, is on Team White. . . . F Jake Virtanen of Abbotsford, who went to the Calgary Hitmen with the first selection of the 2011 bantam draft, is on Team Black. He got into nine games with the Hitmen as a 15-year-old and scored three times. He got his first WHL goal in Kamloops on Dec. 30 as the Hitmen beat the Blazers, 6-3.

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