Sports

Ridge minor hockey looking for direction

Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey is one of the last few large associations in the Lower Mainland without a director of hockey operations. - THE NEWS/files
Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey is one of the last few large associations in the Lower Mainland without a director of hockey operations.
— image credit: THE NEWS/files

Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey is looking into hiring its first full-time director of hockey operations.

That was the main issue to come out of a lively town hall meeting held on Thursday, attended by some 100 hockey parents.

The hockey ops position, which would oversee coach and player development, was not immediately embraced by everyone in the crowd. Minor hockey in Ridge Meadows has always been run by volunteers.

However, association president Mike Walls feels it’s worth pursuing – at least for a trial contract.

This is a trend with the region’s hockey cities. Of the eight Pacific Coast associations with 750 members or more (Ridge has approximately 1,000), only two don’t have a full-time director of hockey operations.

“Us and Langley are the last holdouts,” said Walls.

The full-time position would instill a coaching philosophy and game systems that would be consistent throughout the association.

As it stands now, players get different messages each year. One coach might have his defencemen bank the puck high off the glass in the defensive zone, and bench forwards if they lose the puck in the neutral zone rather than dumping it in and forechecking. The next year, those players could have a coach who urges his defencemen to rush the puck or try creative passes, and wants his forwards to maintain puck possession and challenge defenders one-on-one.

“You need consistency if you’re going to develop players,” said Walls. “Coaches have to all be on the same page. If kids play the same way consistently, eventually it will become second nature to them.”

He said the hockey operations person would dedicate a great deal of his time in the early going to the younger groups of kids and with coaches. Coaches who need the most help would get the most attention.

Seven years ago the Vancouver Thunderbirds became the first association to get a full-time hockey resource person.

“You’re really starting to see the fruits of their efforts now,” said Walls.

While Vancouver’s bantam A1 team was formerly relegated to Flight 3, this year it is in Flight 1, and are ranked about fifth in the province.

Now, the Thunderbirds have five paid positions in their association.

Walls said such a hire should not be taken as a smaller community struggling to keeping up with cities like Vancouver, Burnaby and Abbotsford. He said Ridge Meadows is a large minor hockey association, especially in relation to the size of the community.

“We do very well in hockey membership,” Walls said, noting that the demographics of the people moving to the community seems to favour hockey registration. “We’re a bit of a hockey hotbed, no doubt about it.”

Rep teams are not faring well this season, though, which is part of the reason some parents and executive members support the hiring of a hockey operations person. Of the five rep teams, most are near the bottom of the standings. The bantam A1 team is near first place, but where other teams are in Flight 1, Ridge is in Flight 2 this season.

Walls sees an advantage to be had in terms of “hockey politics,” which is an issue in every association, ever year. Having an impartial, full-time person to call the shots would make issues such as coach selection and balancing C teams go more smoothly.

Some of those in the crowd on Thursday were skeptical that the full-time person would have enough time to help both C division (house) and rep teams, and said the top-end players would be the ones getting the most benefit.

“There are a lot of people who have questions,” said Walls.

The association will form a committee to investigate the issue, and write a job description.

Some quick math says that if a person is hired making $50,000 per year, with the association hovering around 1,000 members, then next year’s registration fees will be hiked roughly $50 per player.

“I think we can do it cheaper,” said Walls, noting there are funds for development that could be redirected.

Walls would hire a person for three years, with the position being reviewed after the first two, and the association given an out clause after the third year.

Walls said the town hall meeting was lively, but respectful.

“People are opinionated and people are passionate about hockey.”

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