After 14 years of play in the BC Major Midget League (BCMML), BC Hockey is suspending the Kootenay Ice program indefinitely.
The province’s representative of Hockey Canada informed the team last month that due to low numbers, the Kootenay Ice was no longer a viable participant in the BCMML.
When the Times asked ‘Why BC Hockey was cancelling the Kootenay Ice program?’, Keegan Goodrich, Vice President of Communications replied: “It’s not cancelled, we just aren’t operating it until numbers change. The report and numbers outline all the reasoning that goes into the evaluation of the program.”
Not surprising, the numbers show that the Kootenay region has a much smaller population than the Lower Mainland, Okanagan, Vancouver Island, and even northern cities like Prince George.
They also attribute a shortage of 16-year-old players to their participation in the Jr. B league, KIJHL – a much cheaper option than the reported $10-12,000 parents pay for their sons to play in the BCMML.
“I am disappointed that this is the year they decided to make this decision,” said Kootenay Ice Treasurer Dara Waterstreet. “I felt we were making very good progress and our players showed tremendous growth this season. The working relationship between the team, J.L. Crowe and Elevate Fitness was getting better and better and things all just seemed to be falling into place.”
Ironically, BC Hockey’s numbers also show the Kootenay player population to be growing. Next season, the league expects that 134 15-year-olds (2004 birthdate) are eligible to play Major Midget, compared to 101 from 2003 and 86 from 2002.
“This year we had a young team (six 2004 players) with the potential for a large contingent of returning players for the upcoming season,” said Waterstreet. “The regional Bantam team in the East Kootenay is doing very well and I am assuming that a number of players from this team would be coming our way. We had already been approached by other players that are currently either playing minor midget at the coast or are at Academies.”
Major Midget is a popular route for 16-and 17-year-old players, but the competition is growing. Junior A (CJHL, WHL) and Junior B (KIJHL, VIJHL, PJHL) are popular alternatives, as is the growing number of players flocking to the Canadian Sports School Hockey League.
Waterstreet points out that, given the numbers, about 30 per cent of the available players attended the Kootenay Ice camps and wonders, ‘What percentage of the eligible Midget players from other zones attend camps?’
“To me it was all numbers. We just don’t have enough trying out and that is where they make their money. We are a huge geographic region with not a large population base. Would be interesting to see how the numbers compare.”
Parents like Dale and Jennifer Smyth had two of their boys play for the Kootenay Ice and are glad to have had an elite program so close to home.
“This program is deeply integrated into our community and the high school with over 40 local sponsors supporting this team, and provided opportunities for the players to be involved in the community,” said Smyth in an email to the Times.
“Playing in the Major Midget league has provided our sons with exposure to multiple Junior B and Junior A teams and experiences. Replacing the Major Midget team with a AA zone team will not replicate the same caliber of athletes. Instead, these elite hometown athletes from the East and West Kootenays will have to move to other areas of the province in order to continue playing high level hockey.
“The Major Midget League should include all regions of the province and not exclude a large part of the interior Kootenay area.”
Waterstreet is also a parent whose son and daughter played for the Midget Ice and the AAA Midget Wildcats.
“On a personal level I feel blessed that both of my kids had the opportunity to play high performance hockey in their own backyard. I am disappointed to see it go and hope that BC Hockey will look to bring it back in the near future.”
A troubled past hasn’t helped the situation either. Earlier this year, BC Hockey had a rift with Greater Trail Minor Hockey Association, when players balked at joining the Bantam AA Zone Program, and, as a result, the Trail Rep team was demoted to Tier 3 status.
According to BC Hockey, “In the roll out of the (Bantam AA Zone) program, BC Hockey encountered resistance from the Greater Trail Minor Hockey Association (MHA). This resulted in the AA program not operating and in its place an A-Select program to allow players to participate in higher categorized tournaments.”
The Kootenay Wild Female AAA team also folded in 2017, after low numbers made it impossible to continue the program. The Ice have now suffered a similar fate, and their return to the BCMML will depend as much on the willingness of parents and players to reboot the program, as BCHockey’s disposition to approve it.
In the meantime, Waterstreet sends a thank you to all those who contributed their time and efforts to sustain the program for the past 14 years.
“I would also like to take the opportunity to thank everyone that worked behind the scenes to make the team a success. This includes everyone from the billet families and staff of J. L. Crowe to the team staff, arena staff, the executive of the Greater Trail Minor Hockey Association, and of course the amazing men that ran the concession every home game, and our wonderful sponsors.”