Two Virden products and a Virden Oil Capitals goaltender have earned the opportunity to compete for United States Premier Hockey League’s Premier Division national championship.
In early March, the Virden duo of Hunter Andrew and Dexter Whittle helped the Charlotte (N.C). Rush earn a spot in the USPHL Premier championship tournament, which runs March 18-22 in Chesapeake, Va. This past weekend Oil Caps netminder Kyle Kozma backstopped his Utah Outliers to a Mountain Division championship and earned a birth to Virginia.
“I’m really excited about getting to play for a championship,” said Andrew, the son of Brock and Andrea. “Getting down here and seeing how much this tournament means to the guys has gotten me and the other Manitoba guys really excited to try and bring a championship back to Charlotte.”
The Rush racked up a 34-9-1-0 regular season record. Andrew, an Oil Caps forward, had a goal and four points in four regular season contests with Charlotte. He also scored a goal in the team’s three game playoff series. Whittle, a defenceman and the son of Alana George Whittle and Clifford Whittle, played in two playoff games and recorded an assist.
Joining Andrew and Whittle on the North Carolina team are Boissevain’s Austin Clyne of the Neepawa Natives and Medora’s Trent Sambrook of the Winkler Flyers. The Manitoba contingent has certainly helped the Rush.
“They are all great kids,” Rush head coach Trevor Jewell said. “On and off the ice they continue to impress me. But when it comes to hockey, they are tough, love the game and are extremely coachable. Every day they bring a great attitude and a compete level that we love seeing. They are a lot of fun and have fit in with our group and culture seamlessly.”
Andrew has enjoyed being teammates with his friends and former foes.
“It’s been a really good experience getting to come down here with guys that I’ve grown up playing with and against,” he said. “It really makes the transition to playing down here that much easier.”
The COVID-19 pandemic halted Kozma’s and Andrews’ Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s season as well as Whittle’s U18 AAA campaign with the Southwest Cougars.
“I wasn’t able to play or practice with my teammates,” said Whittle, who recently signed with the Oil Caps for next season. “So, I was ecstatic when I was given the opportunity to go down to Charlotte to play with the Premier Charlotte Rush team. I was missing the game, so it was a no brainer for me to go.”
An Outliers scout asked Kozma, who hails from Vaughn, Ont., to come down to help the team finish the regular season and compete in the playoffs. He had a 4-3 record in seven regular season appearances with a 3.43 goals against average and a 0.896 goals against average.
“After a few other Canadians and I arrived, we won some games and secured the last playoff spot,” Kozma said. “After hearing that the MJHL had cancelled the season, still being able to get some games in this year was something I was excited for. All the new guys that came in with me are also super happy to be able to play this year when their leagues were cancelled as well.”
The Outliers are based in West Valley City, a Salt Lake suburb. Kozma said, “I am enjoying living in a beautiful state and traveling to places I haven’t been before.”