CPJHL approves new Muskoka Islanders franchise for upcoming 2020-21 season

by Matt Mackinder

The Canadian Premier Junior Hockey League, entering its fifth season in 2020-21, announced today the addition of the new Muskoka Islanders franchise.

Owned and operated by Kevin Garnett, the Islanders’ head coach will be Kristian Luptak and assistant coach will be Roy French.

Garnett has been involved in hockey at all levels for over 35 years. He had the opportunity to have a career in the NHL with the New York Islanders until he was sidelined with a broken neck right before the draft. Since then, he has been coaching hockey at all levels, holding skills camps for all ages and skill sets including pro, as well as working in personal training of athletes to achieve their next-level goals. Garnett also spent some time as a Level 3-certified referee.

The Islanders will practice two hours a day, five days a week, where the first hour will be focused on edge work, puck control and overall skills. The second hour will be running set plays, power play/penalty killing drills and learning how to anticipate both sides of the play. 

“It is our focus to make each individual a better skater, stronger on and off the puck, be able to read and adapt all plays, learn positional hockey, to be strong on the body, power and accurate passing and excellent puck control,” Garnett said. “There will be a mandatory, minimum of two hours per day, six days a week, of personal physical training in our state-of-the-art athletic center, where classes will involve a personal yoga instructor, personal workout programmer and a weight lifting coach as well as a sports nutritionist to guide each player.”

Off the ice, Garnett said the Islanders will be heavily involved in community volunteering at local soup kitchens, food banks, parades, festivals and more, five days a week for at least one hour a day. A minimum of two hours each morning will be set aside for schoolwork and additional learning for those players that are still in school. 

“Personal growth is very important, and we will be implementing personal testing throughout the year on a regular basis,” said Garbett. “This will include strength testing, flexibility, edge work, speed, puck control, agility and hockey knowledge.”

In addition, there will be a minimum of two one-hour team video meetings with all members of the coaching staff to review games played, show where areas of improvement can be made, what was done right, and also to show how to read and anticipate the game better. 

On the coaching side, Luptak, a Slovakia native, has been playing hockey since he was six years old growing up in Europe and also spent three years playing in Canada and training with Garnett during that time, seeing time with CPJHL teams. He returned to Europe to play pro hockey and during his third year, as a captain and first-liner, succumbed to a career-ending shoulder injury.

French has been involved as a coach with CPJHL clubs for the past two years.

Garnett noted that the Islanders are currently in contract negotiations with a goalie coach and hope to have that settled within the next few weeks. 

“There are two coaches that we are looking at bringing aboard,” said Garnett. “Both have played pro hockey and will benefit our program greatly.”

The schooling segment of the Islanders program will also be a major benefit to the players.

“Education is, and always will be, a main focus to our organization,” said Garnett. “We realize that hockey only lasts so long, and an education will last a lifetime. There is nothing more important than keeping up grades and a strong work ethic. As most of our management team has been involved with pro hockey and had their career ended short, we realize the importance and the benefit of having an education.”

Moving forward, the Islanders players will report Aug. 17 for dryland training for two weeks before on-ice training begins. 

“This will ensure to get the blood flowing back to the extremities, get the lungs working to capacity again,” Garnett said. “We will be starting our physical testing at this time as well as implementing team growth and bonding exercises.”

The Islanders team website is now live, while a team Facebook page is also up and running.