Vernon’s Dawson Martian (left) heads a rush with Chase Cooke of the Kamloops Blazers in pursuit in Bantam Rep hockey at Memorial Arena in Kamloops. (File Photo)

Vernon battling to save Rep hockey teams

Drawing support from regional rivals

Greater Vernon Minor Hockey (GVMHA) is fighting to keep quality Rep programs in place for next season.

BC hockey is proposing it take a bigger role by operating Zone style teams which will eliminate most Rep levels from many minor hockey associations like GVMHA.

The BC Hockey test initiatives are in response to rapidly growing Prep School enrolment. Vernon loses several players to Prep Academies in Kelowna, Penticton and Vancouver each year so they believe the idea of building better development models to keep players local and hockey affordable has merit.

The question the Vernon association is asking today is who should run these programs: the community associations or the growing BC Hockey staff office?

Vernon did supply some players to the Zone Midget and Bantam Zone 1 (formerly Tier 1) pilot league last year. Of note, the proposed Zone 2 level pilot in the North Okanagan was cancelled last season after recognizing it would eliminate rep altogether from some associations.

To help make its argument, GVMHA has reached out to concerned Okanagan associations to try and organize and construct a better proposal with BC Hockey.

An informal survey, taken by GVMHA, asked other Okanagan minor hockey officials if they favoured restoring the Tier 2-Tier 4 programs within their communities. The response was virtually unanimous. West Kelowna, Salmon Arm, South Okanagan, Penticton, North Okanagan, Merritt, Chase and Kamloops associations agreed to propose maintaining Tier 2 – Tier 4 team at Midget and Bantam levels, with open borders for rosters. Kelowna did not reply to the initial poll.

Tier 1 through Tier 3 teams have operated in Vernon for many years. Last year under the Zone Pilot. GVMHA only iced Tier 3 in both Midget and Bantam.

Under the new BC Hockey proposals, even these levels could all but vanish and be replaced with Regional Zone teams and a new Minor Midget (all 15-year-olds), which copies the B.C. Major Midget League concept.

A similar test of Minor Midget in Nova Scotia last year sputtered as they ended up having to accept some overage players as there were not enough interested 15-year-olds. These impacts were felt immediately in forcing some community teams to shut down in historical AA and high school leagues.

Associations like Vernon are being told for 2018 they will run A level teams as their only Midget/Bantam Rep program. This proposed A level is more accurately described as House League Select, or House League All-star. These teams would be assembled for limited tournament play and exhibition Rep games. The regular House League programs would all remain the same.

At this time, Pee Wee Rep will not be affected but based on earlier BC Hockey correspondence is expected to go Zone in future too.

GVMHA proactively organized a feedback meeting with its Bantam and Midget age parents/players. This drew more than 100 people and most expressed negative feedback on the Zone program pilot to date and proposed plan.

They in turn widely supported having Tier 2 – Tier 4 come back to GVMHA. As a result, GVMHA have formally requested that BC Hockey focus on improving its Zone 1 level program and restoring Tier 2 through Tier 4 teams to the local volunteer associations within OMAHA.

In a follow-up email to Barry Petrachenko, CEO of BC Hockey, GVMHA board of directors shared the following insights from Vernon parents. “We heard loud and clear they want a viable local option. So no surprise our Tier 2 model got very strong support. After two years, based on our own Zone survey results, the Zone program still has fundamental problems. These are more than enduring a few growing pains. The goals of coaching consistency, development model consistency and non-parent coaching/influence were not achieved. Budgets were far higher than ever projected and there are concerns about where some of the monies actually go.”

GVMHA identified that “cost and extra travel investments didn’t elicit enough value lift in development for many parents at the meeting.”

Vernon families and players were very concerned with the proposed ‘A” house league select program, which quickly got chided as recreation hockey “with a Twist” doesn’t cut-it for good young players and families who just don’t have the money for Zone or academies.”

The GVMHA noted that their responsibility to membership is “to provide members with programs they want and we can properly support. Tier 2-4 fits strongly within both definitions, as it does for the other OMAHA associations.”

The GVMHA sees the benefits of the Zone 1 program, but doesn’t believe members want BC Hockey to take over AA (Tier 2) programs, as Vernon, Kamloops, Kelowna, Penticton, Salmon Arm, and West Kelowna have always iced strong Rep teams of local boys and girls.

In response to GVMHA correspondence, Petrachenko wrote: “We feel programs with an emphasis on fun will grow the enjoyment of hockey for our players and will enhance our support for healthy living concepts. We also feel that efforts to offer this programming will be very worthwhile, and we feel that such programs, offering recreational focus while also providing a limited opportunity for some enhanced development and competition, are vital to growing the game for those who may not desire to take on the commitment required by BC Hockey Bantam and Midget Zone Programming.”

There is more work to do to get on the same page with BC Hockey, but GVMHA says it is committed to doing what it believes makes most sense for its membership and is asking other OMAHA associations to set aside traditional healthy rivalries and work together on requesting what will keep their youth Rep hockey vibrant and cost effective within OMAHA.

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