Due to low numbers, Victoria Minor Hockey Association will not run a midget rep program this year, sending its Oak Bay, Victoria and Esquimalt players to neighbouring Saanich Minor Hockey instead.
It’s not simply a matter of demographics, but also that more choices are available to those 15- to 17-year-old players today.
“There has been a lot of opportunity for midget-age players to go to academies (and) major midget,” said Chris Atchison, Victoria Minor Hockey president.
The change does not affect the midget recreational players or rep players at the younger levels, who will continue to skate with the Victoria Ice Hawks, Atchison said, noting about 15 players are affected.
“Victoria is just so appreciative of what Saanich has done,” he said.
Karen Strange, Saanich Minor Hockey vice-president of administration, welcomed the new families to the association’s midget rep program.
“Saanich Minor Hockey is proud to be working with Victoria Minor Hockey in order to provide opportunity for midget rep players in our greater community. We are excited about the upcoming season and welcome the players and their families to SMHA.”
The boost in numbers pushes Saanich from Tier 2 to Tier 1 status at the midget level, along with other Island associations with a larger player base to draw from, such as Juan de Fuca, Nanaimo and the Comox Valley.
Discussions have been going on in the background for several years between Victoria, the Victoria Racquet Club and Saanich, Atchison said. When the Racquet Club collapsed its midget program last year, some players went to Victoria and others to Saanich.
“This is something I do think the executive at Saanich and the executive at Victoria have talked about for a number of years and we think it’s a necessary evolution of minor hockey in the south (Island),” Atchison said, noting he doesn’t see any change coming for either association at the recreational level, where both have healthy numbers of players who enjoy playing the game. It’s only at the elite or competitive level where the draw on players has created challenges.
Over the years, Victoria had also accepted a number of Saanich players who needed a place to play because Saanich was full.
This year, some of those players opted to go back to Saanich or play elsewhere, leaving Victoria without enough players to form a midget rep team.
Not wanting to leave the remaining players without a place to play competitive hockey, “we looked at ways to co-operate with Saanich.”
While preliminary discussions had also included the possibilities of working with other local organizations, such as Juan de Fuca and Peninsula minor hockey associations, the logistics of getting Oak Bay or Victoria players to those locations could prove challenging for families.
“Every single one of our families came back to us and said we hope it’s Saanich, otherwise we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Atchison said,
Saanich will run three competitive teams at the midget level from its home at Pearkes Recreation Centre, however, Victoria will also be providing ice time through its rinks at Oak Bay, Save-on-Foods and Archie Browning recreation centres, Atchison said.
Rep assessments for the merged group of midget players began last week. Victoria players who try out for the Saanich rep teams but are released from the program must return to the Ice Hawks, said Atchison.