David Stephens and his brother are big news back home.
Whitehorse is to the Yukon what Canada is to the United States — a wide open space of pure Mother Nature with a bunch of cool people mostly huddled in one place.
With a population of just under 23,000, Whitehorse represents three-quarters of the Territories’ population.
That’s pretty much the same portion of this country’s population that lives within 160 km of the U.S. border.
So, when two hockey players make it to the major junior level or beyond, it’s, well, big news.
David made it as a rookie with the Edmonton Oil Kings this season. His brother Ted is a veteran with the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior league.
“I think I’m the third guy in the WHL,” said the younger Stephens, 17. “Everybody there talks to me on Facebook.”
At Mile 918 (that’s Kilometre 1,423) of the historic Alaska Highway — built after the Second World War — it’s not that easy to get there. And not all that easy to get out of if you are on skates.
Like any smaller place, the cream has to find bigger bowls in order to rise to the top.
Jarret Deuling of Whitehorse, taken 56th overall by the New York Islanders in the 1992 NHL draft, was born in Vernon, B.C., and had to go back south to get noticed, winning a couple of Memorial Cups with the Kamloops Blazers.
Stephens had to move “south” to Fort St. John, B.C.
“When I was 15, I moved to Fort St. John. Then halfway through that year I got called up to the major midget team in Prince George and played there the last couple of years. And then, this year, I cracked a spot here. It’s been awesome,” he said.
In two months, the WHL is going north.
The Vancouver Giants and the Blazers will play in Whitehorse on Feb. 12 as part of CBC’s Hockey Day in Canada.
The thousand tickets on sale at the 1,500-seat Takhini Arena sold out in just over an hour.
That kids in the greatest White North have time to lace up is no surprise: long winters and plenty of ice.
“(We) always had the outdoor rink,” said Stephens. “We’d play all night.”
He said home is where his heart will always be.
“I’m going home at Christmas. And it’s always fun in the summer. I love it there.”
He is already something of an ambassador.
Stephens recently made a presentation about the Yukon at Salisbury Comp, where the Oil Kings attend high school.
“Hopefully, I can get some people to come up there. I’m telling some of my buddies they should come up in the summer.”
Just make sure you stop at the Liard hot springs on the way.
In the meantime, Stephens is a former midget scorer learning to adapt.
“I’m getting more comfortable, adjusting to the speed and stuff,” he said.
“The biggest thing I’ve noticed is the size of the players — everyone’s bigger and stronger,” added Stephens, echoing his brother’s comments to the Whitehorse Star after he attended a rookie camp with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“It’ll come soon enough, I think. Getting into more games, getting my confidence, (learning) the defensive zone, (learning to) move the puck quicker, because you don’t have much time in this league.
“I think I’m coming along lately, getting more comfortable trying to do my stuff.”