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Defining moment for Etobicoke Jr. Dolphins U22 Elite

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In a landmark season that saw the Etobicoke Junior Dolphins U22 Elite team win three major championships, the remarkable results stand as testament to the organizationโ€™s outstanding commitment. From establishing a solid team culture to creating a tremendous experience akin to the OHL or the NCAA, the Dolphins are the class of junior female ice hockey in Ontario.

Essential in establishing such a commendable culture, head coach Joe Butkevich has provided strong leadership. Raised in North Bay, Butkevich, a Hockey Canada HP1 certified coach enjoyed a poignant milestone early in his Dolphins career. His hometown rink, Memorial Gardens played host to a neutral site exhibition match between the Dolphins and the Aurora Jr. Panthers.

From changing the question, asking why not instead of why, the results speak for themselves. Highlighted by a $100,000 worth of renovations to their home rink, a series of partnerships and/or sponsorships with the likes of BioSteel, Stark Hockey and Under Armour add a major league feeling. Admirably acknowledging that other junior programs are also progressing, the overall commitment to investing in such talented competitors has created an unprecedented paradigm shift.

โ€œOur program like many around our league has taken a giant step towards being more professional. It has become a cat and mouse game off of the ice that has helped propel our teams forward, and thus creating a more highly competitive standard for all of our players across the OWHA U22 Elite League.โ€

Undoubtedly, the perspective of Butkevich is continuously geared towards ensuring that preparation exceeds expectations. With resources in place, examples such as mental performance coaches and nutritionists, aspects that would have been considered a luxury a generation ago, a better situation exists for the players.

โ€œOur commitment to our players has been to provide a University like experience that rivals Junior hockey on the men’s side. The ability to provide our players with resources to help with their development is something we place great emphasis on. We are now seeing our players who are more prepared to handle the rigors of both Junior hockey and beyond.

We have been able to see our players succeed locally, nationally and internationally through the preparation and support that our wonderful support staff lend to these athletes each and every day. From physiotherapists, a nutritionist, mental performance coach, and equipment manager; our players have the resources in place to ensure that they can reach their full potential.โ€

Involved with the organization for over 25 years, highlighted by proud standing as a Founding Member, Debbie Bland currently serves in the capacity of Rep Director, with a focus on High Performance Programming. A Finalist for the NHL’s Willie O’Ree Award in 2018, Bland, who also serves in a coaching capacity with the Atom aged players has influenced multiple generations of young Dolphins to pursue their hockey dreams.

As the Junior Dolphins feature teams at all age levels, its U22 Elite representing the highest, the summits reached in 2021-22 have propelled them into role model status. Their successes present the empowering possibilities that the younger generation of players can aspire towards. While the upward progression of the Dolphins represents a strong point of pride for Bland, just as meaningful involves the commendable efforts of the U22 players to pay it forward with the younger players, instilling the values of the team culture.

โ€œThe Etobicoke Dolphins organization could not be more proud of our Junior Team lead by head coach Joe Butkevich. The players continue to find success both on and off the ice. Their hard work and dedication to the game is beyond measure. 

Not only do the Junior players contribute to the accomplishments of the team but to the organization as a whole.  We can always find the Junior players helping out as mentors with the other grassroots teams in the Dolphins family.  Being available to help out with practices and attending Dolphin community events is always a high priority on their already full schedules. One particular interaction between McKenna Van Gelder and one of our U9 Dolphin players absolutely made that little girl’s season complete.”

Among the greatest legacies during his time with the Dolphins, Butkevich has seen nearly 50 of his players gain the opportunity to play university hockey. Such a legacy took on a more exciting impact during the summer of 2022. Making national news, the impact of six sensational Dolphins paid tremendous dividends on the IIHF stage.

Wearing the Maple Leaf for Canada at the 2022 IIHF Under-18 Womenโ€™s World Championships, contested in Madison, Wisconsin, Avi Adam, Reichen Kirchmair, Sarah MacEachern, Mari Pietersen, Alyssa Regalado and Mackenna Van Gelder became inextricably linked in Dolphins lore. Essential contributors in Canada claiming their first-gold medal in the event since 2019, Pietersen recording 29 saves, coincidentally, it marked the sixth gold medal in the programโ€™s history.

Worth noting, Butkevichโ€™s hockey resume also features international experience. Serving on Chinaโ€™s coaching staff at the 2020 IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds Group B tournament in Katowice, Poland, it marked a major milestone for coaches and players alike, emerging with the bronze medal, an historic first-ever podium finish. In attendance throughout the tournament in Wisconsin, Butkevich took on the mantle of fan, ecstatic at the display of perseverance and teamwork displayed by the Dolphins stars.

โ€œWinning is something that all highly competitive individuals love to do. However, it was a special year because of the group of people we had inside the dressing room. The culture was as strong as ever in our hockey program and it made being successful that much more possible.

We place a great emphasis on character and this year was definitely at an all-time high, up and down our lineup. Our leaders were unbelievable and they certainly steered the ship and it was great to see them finish their minor hockey careers on a winning note with an OWHA Provincial Championship.

Watching and witnessing six Etobicoke Junior players win gold as members of Team Canada is something surreal. Watching these player’s work tirelessly to achieve their goal, to wear the maple leaf, is something that everyone in the entire Etobicoke Dolphins Association can be proud of. These players earned this honour from their dedication and hard work away from the rink.โ€ 

As the magnitude of the IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds served as the exclamation point for the greatest season in Etobicoke Jr. Dolphins history, the ascension of the organization to elite status shall always stand as the ultimate tribute to Bland. An essential builder in junior women’s ice hockey during Millennium and beyond, Bland transformed an organization into a family.

Beaming with pride after the Dolphins sensational six enjoyed golden glory for Canada in Madison, Bland’s observations reflect the culture perfectly. The denouement to the greatest Dolphins season, her sentiments include the  support of the families, demonstrating how it is not just the players that live and bleed blue. From the coaches, parents and staff, the tree of support contributes to its success, built on the foundation of community.

“We were so proud as an organization during the recent World championships.  So many Dolphin families were tuned in and cheering loud for our amazing athletes.

The Dolphins organization prides itself on being a great place for girls to develop and excel at the game of hockey.  To have fun, to give back, and no matter what path your life takes, being an Etobicoke Dolphin will always be cherished part of our players. Congrats to Joe and this fantastic group of players.โ€

โ€œAll quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicatedโ€

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