Ball hockey has gone from the driveway to the local rink and on to the international stage, and local kids are along for the ride.
As the sport grows in popularity, kids from Maple Ridge’s well-established league are getting more and better opportunities to play at the elite level. Eight local players were on the West Coast Express team that won gold in the Czech Republic earlier this month, in the Plzen Challenge Cup.
Six of those players have now been selected to move on and play for the under-15 Team B.C. at the Canadian championships in Edmonton next month, and they all hope to play for Team Canada someday.
Four Ridge kids will make up the Team B.C. defence.
“That hasn’t happened by accident, we play a good defensive style of hockey,” said Jon Silcox, the Team B.C. coach, who is also a coach in the local association.
Keegan Prophet, Eddie Riddell, Mitchell Shelton and Tyler Slavin will be Team B.C. defenders.
“They’re all solid, and they all have good hockey smarts,” said Silcox. “And they all shoot with a purpose.”
They will be joined by local forwards Brendan Chabot and Brandon McRobert.
Silcox said Chabot stands out for his work in the corners.
“Winning the ball on the boards is one of the most crucial parts of the game, and he will win battles against guys who are bigger than him.”
McRobert doesn’t quit.
“That kid’s a work horse. He’ll run you down, and he plays on the edge.”
The athletes are hoping that their experience in Europe will help them win at the nationals.
Ask them about the trip and they will tell you about seeing historic Prague, the City of a Hundred Spires, or the 700-year-old Cathedral of St. Bartholomew in Plzen. But they all say the highlight was winning gold.
McRobert, in Grade 9 at Maple Ridge secondary, remembers watching his team score the insurance goal with two seconds left, the clock ticking down, and then guys flying over the boards for the celebration.
“We all jumped off the bench and just ran for the goalie,” he said. “Winning gold was a great achievement.
“It was a really beautiful trip. A great experience, and a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
Actually, his teammate Chabot will get another trip there next year. He was the youngest player on the team, and the Pitt Meadows Grade 8 student would like to go back to Plzen next June.
“It was the experience of a lifetime,” he said.
Prophet said the trip was also a great bonding experience for the players, who will mostly form Team B.C.
“We all still talk, and we got pretty close,” he said.
“I’ll remember that trip forever.”
They are all guys who have played ice hockey, and decided they prefer the game that so many first played in the street.
Chabot can run all day, and it gives him an edge – there’s no gliding like in ice hockey.
“Ball hockey is a lot harder – you need cardio,” he said.
Prophet was happy to say goodbye to 6 a.m. ice hockey practices. But he loves ball hockey, and some weeks he can get on the floor almost every day, and still sleep in. He gets to play for five different teams this year: the Thomas Haney high school team, the Renegades, his association team, the Express, and now Team B.C.
Silcox said the Ridge Meadows Minor Ball Hockey Association has become a powerhouse in the sport, with over 1,000 kids registered and some playing at provincial and national team levels.
There are three kids playing for the U-18 national team that will play at the World Junior Ball Hockey Championships in Sheffield, U.K. in July – defenders Chase Pederson and Dylan Grier and forward Marc Gautreau. Goaltender Matteo Pettrelli is on the U-16 national team.
“It’s a great association, and you can be quite successful,” said Silcox.
He has been to the Canadian championships each of the past three years, winning two silver and bronze as an assistant.
He thinks this year’s U-15 Team B.C. has a golden opportunity.
“We’ve got a really good shot,” he said. “You can feel the energy in the room with them – they want the win.”