The Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey Association is getting a makeover, and it goes beyond the new-look website and the popular third jerseys.
The association is heading into an Oct. 23 annual financial meeting and town hall event. Members of the board of directors went over some of the things this group has accomplished since taking on their jobs at the beginning of last season.
High on the agenda next Thursday will be an audited version of financial books.
Association president Scott Falconer said the RMMHA will be running a deficit for the second straight year.
“There are several things that factor into that. We are faced with some of the highest ice costs in the Lower Mainland,” said Falconer.
“Ice costs, in and of themselves, are probably one of our biggest challenges as an association.”
Vice-president of administration Evelyn Pederson explained that ice rental fees rise three to five per cent each year, but the association has been holding the line on raising registration fees.
Falconer said that many minor hockey associations benefit from having arenas that were built by their municipalities, are often run by them, and generally offer subsidized ice times.
RMMHA pays some $550,000 per year for ice time, with the highest cost being prime time at Planet Ice for $305 per hour.
Compared with neighbouring associations, “the gap is fairly wide,” said Falconer.
The executive is working on an aggressive sponsorship program that will offer corporate partners exposure on the association’s revamped website, advertising in tournaments and email send-outs to members.
“The last thing you want to do is go to your parents and say, ‘We need you to give more money out of your wallet,’” said Falconer.
He added, the executive will approach both local municipal governments for a new working arrangement to deal with high ice costs.
With 1,000 kids playing on 62 teams, Ridge is among the six largest minor hockey associations in B.C. Registration is still growing, and as the community expands, the association will need more ice surfaces to keep up with demand. It’s a long-term plan, but the executive wants to start the conversation,
“In Maple Ridge, our kids play hockey. We have a community inside of 100,000 people, and we have over 1,000 kids who play hockey,” said Derek Gullmes, vice-president of C hockey. “We need another sheet of ice.”
The executive doesn’t like the fact that its kids, both house league and rep, must get up for ice times as early as 5:30 a.m.
“Show me any other sport that has practices before school,” said Gullmes. “For some reason, hockey has been designated as the sport that practices before school.”
Lots of kids can’t make it, families can’t arrange rides, and eight kids is a good turnout for early morning practice.
There’s a solution right under their feet at Planet Ice.
“Right next door there’s an NHL sheet of ice sitting under that curling rink that sits vacant a very large portion of the time,” said Gullmes. “It’s ready to go.”
He said the facility would need boards and change rooms built, then the community could increase its ice availability by 20 per cent.
Of course, a new location for the Golden Ears Curling Club would be part of the solution, making this simple solution a long-term project.
Director of Hockey Development
The association is starting its second season with a full-time, paid professional director of hockey development, and so far the board is hearing positive reviews.
“Everything that I’ve ever been told, it’s excellent,” said Falconer. “James [Eccles] has done a fantastic job on the ice.”
He characterized parent reaction as “extremely positive,” despite some controversy before the hiring.
“In my opinion, it was definitely the right move,” said Falconer, adding that more associations in B.C. are following suite.
Gullmes called the position “a great resource,” and said the C coaches are getting better by participating with and observing Eccles.
“Our little guys, right now, we’re seeing them be more prepared, better skilled as they exit their programs,” he said.
Blaine Hallman, vice-president of A hockey, said rep teams used to hire power skating and other specialist coaches on a team-by-team basis, at rates of $100 per hour. That funding has been effectively redirected, and now there is a consistent coaching style across RMMHA.
“We have someone with a long-term vision,” said Hallman. “We’re all developing the same way, we’re all approaching each practice at each level the same way.”
Parents say the development kids are getting at the Hockey 1-3 levels is “light years ahead” under Eccles, according to Hallman.
“It will build more competitive teams, eventually. But right now, you’re working on skill sets for the kids,” he added. “The product on the ice, as far as development goes, has never been better. It’s outstanding.”
Respect, Desire, Pride
All teams are now called Rustlers, across the association. The new mantra is Respect, Desire, Pride for an association that is trying to change its brand.
There is a new third jersey that has exceeded expectations in sales. The executive hoped 10 teams might buy sets of the shirts. Kids pay $110 and get a semi-pro quality jersey that they can keep at the end of the season, and which they are allowed to put a name bar on. They are closing in on 20 teams buying them.
“Not too long ago, people were somewhat ashamed to say they played in Ridge Meadows,” said Gullmes. “The pride just wasn’t there. I don’t know where it went. But that’s a core piece we’re trying to re-instill.”
Hallman sees it turning around.
“The pride thing starts to be infectious. That’s what we’re trying to change, and it’s working,” he said.
Falconer notes that other hockey associations have banners and displays in their arenas.
“In our arenas, we don’t have any of our successes displayed. We don’t have any of our banners hung. We don’t have any of the celebration of the players who did come out of the RMMHA who made it to the WHL, or went on to a good college career, or made it to the NHL.
“We need that. Those guys deserve it. Brendan Morrison and Andrew Ladd deserve that recognition, and we want our little guys to see that if you work hard and apply yourself, kids from Maple Ridge can make it.”
Mountains of work
The group has done “a mountain of work” on a new policy manual.
This year it also revamped the evaluation process for both A and C players, hoping to eliminate “suspect views” of what used to be called tryouts.
Falconer admits it’s not a perfect science, and it can still be subjective. But the key principle was fairness for all of the 300-plus kids who tried out for rep teams.
The association has also hired a bookkeeper to help handle the finances, the board feeling it is not fair to ask a volunteer to be responsible for a $900,000 budget.
Gullmes, a long-time member of the association, said the board is running as well as it ever has, if not better.
“It’s extraordinarily healthy and functional.”
Falconer says there’s a good foundation to build on.
“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to previous boards throughout the years of Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey. We’ve built something substantial here, but the opportunity still exists to take it to another level.”
• The town hall event will be held at the Hammond Community Centre, 20601 Westfield Ave., at 7 p.m. on Oct. 23.