Maple Ridge has a new six-team league in the fastest-growing high school sport in the province – ball hockey.
This year there is a Maple Ridge circuit in the new Lower Mainland league, which started in Surrey in 2013 and has been spreading like a Youtube kitten video.
Surrey teacher Robert Moxness is the man who first got the ball rolling, and has helped the sport as it goes viral. He’s now getting calls from teachers as far away as Ontario asking for advice in getting their own high school leagues going.
It is not a traditional high school sport, but Moxness says ball hockey is perfect.
“Ball hockey is B.C.’s fastest growing sport,” he asserts. “It’s accessible, it’s affordable and kids don’t need to know how to skate, but they can still go out and feel like they’re playing for the Stanley Cup.”
It began with a tournament in Surrey in 2011. It grew into a rapidly expanding league. Now Moxness runs the forerunner of a provincial championship in a year-end invitational tournament.
Last year, two Maple Ridge teams competed in that event, and it was actually two students, Curtis Rodgerson and Thomas Hong, who asked for Moxness’ help in getting a league started here.
Normally that’s a big job, but here it went smoothly. Moxness found there was available arena time – a big barrier in other communities – so all the games could be held locally. There is already a great ball hockey association in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, and president Joe Seminario was able to help with things like booking qualified referees.
“The association is supportive and they have been awesome,” said Moxness. “We’re off to a great start.”
And his two teen organizers helped create a buzz in the schools – there are teams in Samuel Robertson Technical, Maple Ridge secondary, Garibaldi, Westview and Thomas Haney actually has two teams.
“They have been the galvanizers – a league doesn’t usually develop this quickly in my experience,” said Moxness of Rodgerson and Hong.
That said, there are already seven teams in Surrey West, another seven in a Surrey East league, a four-team Delta division, and seven more in a Lower Mainland Division that includes teams from high schools in Burnaby, Vancouver and Richmond.
With six new teams in Maple Ridge, that means there are already 31 teams in the Lower Mainland, and Abbotsford and Chilliwack schools have been in touch with Moxness.
He has also seen growth in the standard of play, and notes that elite-level ball hockey players can pursue the sport all the way to the world championships.
“The calibre of competition has improved every year,” said Moxness.
The Maple Ridge Ramblers and SRT Titans have jumped out to an early lead in the local standings with two wins and tie. The Titans have showed a high octane offence, and have put up 23 goals in just three games, while allowing only three goals against.
Hockey has traditionally been a rough, if not violent game, and Moxness thinks that reputation may have kept ball hockey out of schools in the past. But the players wear helmets with full face protection, there is no body checking, and there is zero tolerance of fighting. Engaging in fisticuffs leads to expulsion from the league. In Surrey’s inaugural season, when a player took a run at another player, he was handed a season-ending penalty for intent to injure, despite the fact that the victim was not injured.
The ball hockey organizers are quick to eject problem players, but in Maple Ridge, so far so good.
“The mantra is that this is an expansion of the classroom,” he said. “The rules are pretty tight, and the refs are good.”
Moxness wants continued growth, into a full-fledge provincial championship tournament, under the umbrella of BC high school sports.
He also wants to get a girls tournament started, hoping that it will plant the seed for a girls ball hockey league.
For this year, the addition of the Maple Ridge division is a significant boost for the sport on the high school scene.
“It’s a fun sport, its fun to watch, and the kids get a lot out of it,” said Moxness.
This year, the year-end tournament will feature 24 teams, and will be held May 27-29 at the North Surrey Recreation Centre.