Hockey season may be winding down, but local minor hockey organizers are striking while the ice is still cold and reminding people to start thinking of next season.
Jeremy Fossum, president of the Hope & District Minor Hockey Association said on Monday that the 36-year-old association had 116 players this year, leaving many of the divisions with single teams and waiting lists that didn’t grow big enough to spawn the extra teams.
“We had one hockey 2 team, one hockey 4, an atom C and A, one peewee, one bantam and one midget team,” said Fossum. “If we had gained maybe four kids in each division, we’d have had enough for two teams in each division.”
Moving to two teams often means smaller teams, making more ice time for players on game day and more space on the ice in practices.
“We’re in dire need for more players of all ages to keep hockey in Hope,” Fossum stressed. He’s hoping that new province-wide changes on body checking will make the game more appealing to parents and their kids.
“There will be no body checking in any of the recreational divisions next year,” said Fossum. “In rep hockey, it will start at the bantam division.
It will be a big change as, “They even had hitting in peewee house this year,” he added.
The vote at the Jan. 22 Pacific Coast Amateur Hockey Association’s general meeting wasn’t even close, with 123 voting for the ban and 39 against it.
“One of the arguments was that it’s very rare to even have men’s rec leagues with body contact, like there were 15 years ago,” explained the president. Rep hockey is one thing, but if a recreational or house league player is never going to aspire to the elite level, then they need not be exposed to body checking, he said.
Fossum also encouraged kids to get involved in the sport, even at a later age.
“There’s a thought out there that if they miss out on novice hockey, the kids get too far behind and they’ll never catch up,” said Fossum. “But kids can learn quickly. I didn’t start until peewee myself… the same with Brian Druet — and we were in rep hockey within two years.”
Fossum said the coming season and future years will be a great time for older players to join, as the body checking ban would make it a much smoother learning curve for the new players.
“I’m hoping that taking the body checking out will get the older kids signing up,” said Fossum. There might be a few teens turned off by the lack of the rough play, but he says “if you look at house hockey, there aren’t a lot of clean hits. They are looking for the big hit, rather than just trying to separate the player from the puck.
“It might even speed up the game, with the focus on skills,” he contended.
Hockey isn’t the least expensive game around — but Hope MHA has been able to keep a lid on rising costs, by freezing their fees for at least the last six years. The same rates will apply next season, said Fossum.
Rates reflect the amount of ice time given to each age group for practices and games, as well as the cost of officials for games. Fees range from $275 for the hockey 1 and 2s, to $500 for midget. Rep hockey costs an extra $300. Early registrants get a $50 discount per player.
Mindful that not all families can afford the fees, Fossum said the association has a sponsorship program, where a family can send in a written request for assistance.
There’s also a hockey equipment exchange in the planning stages, making it possible for players to pick up used gear at no cost.
“The rec centre is thinking of having a general swap meet for all sports, some time in the summer,” said Fossum. “If they do that, then we’ll have a booth there. Otherwise, we’ll have our own swap meet.
“We want to get a good collection of equipment beforehand, so we’d like people to bring their old gear to the annual general meeting,” added Fossum. “In our small association, early registration is crucial in planning our upcoming season.
People who attend get one door prize ticket for the free registration draw — and anyone who donates hockey gear gets an extra ticket.
The AGM will be at 7 p.m. on April 18, likely in the arena mezzanine, and early registration will begin at 6 p.m.