No one knows how long ball hockey will have to persevere in order to change its perceived bush league status in this province, but the development and future of the game, at least on some level, looks to be headed in the right direction with more emphasis at the minor level.
Newfoundland and Labrador Ball Hockey Association (NLBHA) is in good hands now with president Steve Power who has a background in the sport as well as hockey. Power knows what has to be done to keep ball hockey alive and he’ll do it.
However, at this point, even Power acknowledged ball hockey is a “cult sport” in this province. He hopes that will eventually change with more prominence given to the game at the minor level. Even if it doesn’t, it’s crucial to keep the game healthy and that means getting more kids involved and expanding its base across the province.
The provincial association announced recently that it will operate several divisions, including four male groups from under-12 to under-19 as well as an U15 female division and a co-ed division for kids nine and under this summer in St. John’s.
The association is also pushing the game’s development across the province.
While Power noted there’s never been a real official youth league in the capital city, the Youth Ball Hockey League (YBHL), which is not affiliated with the St. John’s or provincial association, has operated a minor program for the past three years out of NorthPoint Sports on O’Leary Ave.
Jeff Doucet, along with co-creator Jackie Constantine, began a program that only catered to children 8-11 years, but it has since expanded to 8-14 years.
The organizers said they have considered expanding again to include 15-17 year olds.
“We don’t like the thought of the kids in our older group not having a place to play at 15,” said Doucet. “Once they turn 18 I assume they go on to play in the men’s league.”
Doucet said their league is “fun based.”
“We strive to keep things light for the kids as opposed to a more serious, competitive based league,” explained Doucet. “Our goal is fitness and fun.”
He said the league doesn’t use offsides or icing and they call penalty shots instead of penalties which he says has worked out well.
“I’m proud to say that we have only a couple very small incidents such as kids mouthing off to each other since our inception. I think that’s pretty good considering it’s hockey.”
While the program is not affiliated with the Newfoundland and Labrador Ball Hockey Association, Doucet said they have gotten their player insurance from the provincial association and he hopes that continues.
“Our numbers have been pretty consistent with between 40-60 kids in our program at any given time,” said Doucet.
“We may be a small league, but I’m proud to say that just about all of the kids who have played in our leagues have had a blast.”
He said there have been dropouts but, for the most part, it has to do with conflicts of interest in soccer and ice hockey not the quality of product the league offers.
“The YBHL has also been an entry point into organized hockey for many young kids in and around St. John's. I’m proud of what we have created and I think that most of the YBHL kids and their parents are very pleased with their experiences in the league,” Doucet said.