Hockey merger experiment expands to pee wee, bantam

Victoria and Saanich Minor Hockey Associations test combining high-performance programs

Oak Bay High grad Jacob Young celebrates a goal with the Saanich Midget Tier 1 Braves. Young spent his final minor hockey year with the Saanich Braves Midget Tier 1 team last year as Victoria and Saanich test a merger of their competitive divisions. He says the move made for an enjoyable and challenging year.

Minor hockey is undergoing a bit of a facelift in the capital region.

Last year, the Victoria and Saanich minor hockey associations launched a trial merger at the midget rep level. Victoria Minor Hockey includes players who live in Oak Bay.

“In the 2015-2016 season, we blended the midget competitive teams,”  said VMHA president Chris Atchison. “It ended up with blended teams being formed at Saanich that were comprised of players from both Saanich and Victoria (minor hockey associations).”

BC Hockey and the Vancouver Island Amateur Hockey Association had asked both the Saanich and Victoria hockey programs to consider merging the teams.

“They made it clear that this was something that they would desire to see happen in the future,” Atchison says.

“We had an opportunity to make it work on our terms, rather than to wait a couple years and have them do it for us.”

Ultimately the move made sense from a geographical standpoint, Atchison says, noting  it didn’t make sense for players to be divided by seemingly arbitrary boundaries.

“There are only so many kids that can make up a competitive landscape (on Vancouver Island) and Saanich and Victoria share a large boundary. It didn’t make sense for a lot of years when (two players would be) physical neighbours and one would play for (Saanich) and the other would play for (Victoria),” he says.

Before the merge, Saanich had two competitive teams and Victoria had one. The two programs combined to form three competitive teams, effectively allocating players into three separate tiers according to skill level.

Initially, the move was met with some skepticism as it came about quite suddenly and families had not had time to adjust to the idea, Atchison says.

However, the two governing bodies worked together and were able to make a relatively smooth transition.

Oak Bay High grad Jacob Young was one of the players who came from Victoria to play for Saanich during the trial run of the midget merger this past season, playing on the Tier 1 Saanich Braves team.

He says that while the change took a bit of getting used to, he views the merge as a positive change.

“Coming from Victoria, I only knew a couple faces on Saanich, (but) the team had so much chemistry. We worked really well as a team, Young says. “My last year at Saanich Minor Hockey was probably my most competitive and (the) most fun year I’ve experienced.”

The newly blended team showed its competitiveness as a whole, winning the Tier 1 Island finals and earning a berth to provincials where they finished third.

With the initiative being such a success at the midget level, the two associations are expanding the trial merger the to the bantam and pee wee levels as well.

“We’ve got an agreement to pilot it for a two-year term. We’ll review it at the end of next season,” Atchison says.

The most significant issues that have presented themselves during the merging process have been selecting coaches for the teams and determining where tryouts are going to take place, however Atchison says players and families have been and will continue to be kept up-to-date on any changes that will be made affecting them.



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