The Fraser Valley Jets (white/blue) and Richmond Devils (black/red) tangled the last time the South Coast Women's Hockey League played in Hope back in 2019, and the league's year-end provincial championship tournament returns to town in late March. (Barry Stewart photo)

South Coast Women’s Hockey League brings provincial tournament back to Hope

Six teams will face off at March 25 to 27 at the Hope and District Recreation Centre

High level hockey is coming to Hope as the South Coast Women’s Hockey League (SCWHL) plays its year end provincial championship tournament.

The event started today and continues through Sunday at the Hope and District Recreation Centre, with six teams vying for a B.C. Hockey banner. Those teams are the Meadow Ridge Moose, North Shore Rebels, Fraser Valley Jets, South Fraser TNT, Richmond Devils and Kamloops Vibe.

“It’s senior AA women’s hockey, which is the highest level of competitive women’s hockey you will find in B.C.,” said SCWHL president Rick Kupchuk. “If a player graduates from the B.C. Elite Hockey League or goes south to play college hockey, comes back and still wants to play after that, this is where they play.”

The league staged their year-end tournament in Hope in 2019 and Kupchuk said they received great fan and corporate support. COVID prevented its return in 2020 and 2021, but the plan was always to make it an annual event.

“We had a really good time there, and the support we got through sponsorship made it financially feasible to do it,” he said. “One of the things we thought was kind of cool was get out of the Metro Vancouver area and have all our teams meet in one small town. After trying it for one year we thought it was something we could really build on.

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“We had everything in place for a return in 2020, but about 10 days before we were supposed to go back, the pandemic hit and we were told ‘Nope, you can’t go.’”

The league sat out the entire 2021 season and Kupchuk said this season has been dubbed the ‘reset season,’ all about trying to get back to normal.

“What’s a success is three days of good competitive hockey with our six teams, and knowing that when we get back on the ice next September we’re fully back to normal.”

For anyone who hasn’t watched SCWHL hockey, Kupchuk said they’ll be surprised at how good it is.

Women’s hockey doesn’t have body-checking, which causes many a hardcore fan to hesitate, but Kupchuk said there’s plenty of contact and the pace of games is outstanding.

“Our scorekeepers and timekeepers also work the Chilliwack Chiefs games, and in some ways they say it’s a faster level of hockey than junior A because there’s no body checking,” he explained. “The players are free to just fly up the ice with the puck and it’s more of a finesse game.

“But there is contact. There’s no body checking but there are battles in front of the net and in the corners. You can lean into somebody and take away their space. There’s plenty of contact.”

Hope will benefit economically having the tourney in town.

Each of the six teams brings around 20 players and coaches with them, plus family and friends. There are on and off ice officials and Kupchuk said that last time there were around 300-400 people in the stands for the Sunday final.

“We are just so happy to compete in a provincial tournament again,” Kupchuk said. “We really missed it the last two years.”

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