NORTH DELTA — Canada’s favourite sport hasn’t been played much by B.C. high school teams over the years, but organizers of a regional league are looking to change that.
Despite its name, the BC High School Hockey League doesn’t involve a province-wide collection of teams – not yet, at least.
Instead, 24 teams from the Metro Vancouver/Sea to Sky region are currently stickhandling their way through the league’s relatively short season, which runs from early April until the middle of May.
One of the local teams, the Scorpions of Sands Secondary, played a game against Coquitlam’s Charles Best Secondary at North Delta’s Planet Ice on Tuesday, April 12. The result wasn’t pretty for the home team, but the arena’s Canadian rink saw some high-calibre hockey that afternoon.
“The guys do have pride playing for their school and they’re having fun out there, even though they lost that one and a couple of other (games) before that,” said coach Dave Marks, a teacher at the school.
The Sands squad plays in the league’s 12-team Tier 2 division, while Surrey’s Holy Cross Crusaders do battle in Tier 3 with seven other teams. South Surrey’s Earl Marriott Secondary is also involved in the league, in the four-team Tier 1 division.
(Pictured: Sands Scorpions coach Dave Marks talks to his players between periods at Planet Ice in North Delta.)
This spring, Sands will play just four regular-season games, and then it’s right into the playoffs, in a single-knockout format.
“It’s a short season, and the league actually operates more like a tournament,” Marks explained.
“They try to make it fair and balanced. I tell the kids, ‘We may not be as talented as some of the teams we’ll play, but if we don’t do well in Tier 2, we’ll get moved down to Tier 3 for the playoffs,’ which is what happened with us last year.”
The league got its start seven years ago when Aaron Crawford, a Port Coquitlam resident, along with Tim Knight, a colleague who is no longer involved, approached BC Hockey with the concept.
“They really wanted it to go, so they put some resources into it,” said Crawford, who continues to manage the league.
“It used to be a big job managing everything,” he said, “but we now have it down to a bit of a science, teams have been in it for a few years and they know what’s involved.”
The league vision, as stated on its website, is “to grow the game of ice hockey by providing a province-wide high school league that is separate of the existing minor hockey season but which compliments and benefits both the high school and minor hockey systems in B.C.”
The league is not associated with the hockey-focused academies that have sprung up in some B.C. schools in recent years.
Rules stipulate that players must be enrolled full-time in the school for which they play, and they can’t be on a Junior-team roster.
“We get new teams all the time, and some teams leave (the league) just because a crop of kids graduate or just decide not to play,” Crawford noted.
“BC Hockey didn’t want the league to run alongside their winter leagues, because they didn’t want kids choosing between their club team and their school team. There are a few conflicts with (school) rugby and basketball, but for the most part it’s good timing.”
Mostly Midget-aged players – students in Grades 10 through 12 – are on the rosters, although some Grade 8s and 9s fill gaps on some of the squads.
At Sands, the team is a mix of Midget- and Bantam-level players.
“These kids are paying to play, which is pretty much the case with all high school athletics now,” Marks replied when asked about ice time and other costs.
“We had some help from our PAC last year, to pay for a second set of jerseys, so we have home and away jerseys.”
Whatever the costs, Marks says the league has been a hit with his players since Sands got involved three years ago.
“It’s a good opportunity for guys who haven’t played together to play on the same team,” he said.
“On the bench they’re like, ‘It’s OK, Mr. Marks – Tier 3 banner, we’ll get that.’ They kind of know what’s happening here. Last year, we played in Tier 2 and we didn’t do awesome, got moved to Tier 3, made the semi-finals and probably could have taken the banner, which is what the kids want, that banner. If you walk into our school, they have the banners there and our school hasn’t won many of those in recent years. We won provincial soccer a couple years ago but the kids want another banner.”
The league is on the web at Bchockey.net/BCHSHL/BCHSHL.aspx.