Surrey-area minor hockey associations are aiming to hit the ice again later this summer, as always.
Registration has opened for play in the Surrey, Cloverdale, Semiahmoo and North Delta associations that comprise the Valley West zone in B.C.
The regional Pacific Coast Amateur Hockey Association said it is “well positioned for a successful season start in September, following prescribed return-to-play protocols from our sport governing bodies, the public health authorities and provincial government.
“It is our intention to have both recreational and rep hockey,” the association said in a July 3 statement. “This includes preparing game schedules for various return-to-play scenarios. We are pleased that we are now in Phase 3 of B.C’s Restart Plan, and we are beginning to see some of our municipal arenas reopen with programming run by our member associations.”
Local minor hockey associations are looking to start on-ice sessions in mid-August, as in previous seasons, but in Surrey it’s not yet clear when city-operated rinks and rec centres will reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The city is looking at a “phased” re-opening of rec centres starting in the fall “if conditions stay the same,” City Manager Vincent Lalonde told Surrey council at its June 29 meeting.
Meantime, hockey practices organized by individuals have been held at private rinks including Langley Sportsplex and Delta Planet Ice. No Hockey Canada-sanctioned events are currently allowed.
The PCAHA says it has been working with its member associations on plans for a safe return to hockey. Regular meetings with all parties “have been occurring since April to plan and prepare for next season.”
PCAHA Statement on Return to Hockey planning pic.twitter.com/y7PMRHzLCt
— PCAHA (@PCAHAMain) July 6, 2020
The Now-Leader was on a recent Zoom conference with executives from Valley West minor hockey associations, including Surrey president Harbs Bains, Cloverdale president Deanna Cox, North Delta president Robert Reid and Semiahmoo executive director Dave Newson.
“We know we have to work together to make this game come back this fall, and also make it comfortable and seamless for our members,” Bains said.
In early June, Hockey Canada said the best approach for a return to hockey in Canada is to allow each of its 13 provincial organizations “the opportunity to work with authorities in their respective regions to determine when it is safe to return to the ice in areas that fall under their jurisdiction.”
Minor hockey registration has since begun, and pre-season camps planned.
“With our registration patterns,” Newson said, “we’re getting good numbers and very little negative feedback about plans to return – just a couple of emails from people wondering what the season’s going to look like and if it’s a good time to register, that type of thing. But I think people are sensing that there will be some hockey in some form, and that it might look different but they want to be part of it when the time comes.”
Reid said “the rumour mill kind of took over for a few weeks there, with people saying there’d be no hockey, no games, nothing,” due to the pandemic.
“Unless we hear otherwise, our game is going ahead the way it always has. If we have to modify it once we do get direction, we have a contingency plan in place.
“We spend so much time chasing our kids off the XBoxes,” Reid added, “and for a couple months there’s been nothing but that, but I get the impression that parents are itching, absolutely itching to get back to what we know and love.”
Cox, who was elected president in Cloverdale in the spring, said the issues include tournaments and how they would be played.
“I had one of my rep coaches asking about registering for a fall tournament in the States, and we agreed that that’s a bad idea,” Cox said. “It’s about finding something local, and hopefully by the spring they can go back into the U.S. for tournaments, places out of town.”
For associations across Canada starting this coming season, divisions of minor hockey will no longer be known as Peewee, Bantam, Midget and similar names. In a change announced last November, Hockey Canada has moved to U7, U9 and other alpha-numeric, age-specific division names.
“We just have to keep getting the message out with the new branding, and be consistent,” Bains said. “The kids will get used to it right away, but it might take longer for the parents.”
COVID or no COVID, Newson said all of the local associations are interested in gaining more access to city-operated rinks and using private facilities less, for financial reasons.
New to Surrey at the start of last hockey season was North Surrey Sport & Ice Complex, a three-sheet arena built near Pattullo Bridge as a replacement for the two-sheet North Surrey Recreation Centre.
“For us,” Bains said, “it was a great new building and the anticipation and excitement was there. Some found it a long ways to travel because they got used to the other rink location, but as the season progressed it was fine. The kids loved playing there.”
For those in Cloverdale, the new rink provided some relief in an area where the city cancelled plans to build a two-sheet arena.
“We found that we could do more practices closer to home, and didn’t have to buy as much ice in Langley, for example, that early-morning ice,” Cox said.
“We found this past year that they expanded their adult hockey even more (at Surrey Sport and Leisure, in Fleetwood), and I get that the city has to make their arenas profitable, but we get complaints every single week about kids having such bad ice times,” Cox continued.
“It’s hard on the kids when they’re practicing at 10:30, 10:45 at night, or 5:30 in the morning, just to get on the ice here in Surrey. We could get better times in Langley but then we’d be paying three times the rate we’d pay in Surrey. We have kids at the Bantam and Midget ages who quit because the ice times are so bad.”
In other hockey news, BC Hockey says it will be operating a zone program for the 2020-2021 season, putting to rest rumours that the program would be scrapped during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The BC Hockey Zone AAA/AA Program provides elite-level development for players aged 13 to 18. The focus of this program is to prepare them for the next level of hockey through expanded draw zones.