A look at BC’s new and inclusive hockey league

Hockey is Canada’s game.

From touching commercials of kids playing their first games to rousing moments in Olympic history, no sport epitomizes Canadians better. But hockey has had a dark side too—aggression, notorious “enforcers,” concussions, and more—and it has kept some off the ice. That’s why the Lower Mainland’s new Insiders Hockey League positions itself as a kinder, gentler league, where the first word in gameplay is respect.

As COVID-19 descended on the world, the NBA’s sudden suspension of its season on March 12th ushered us into unprecedented territory—a world without sports. Life without something common to cheer for felt strange, and soon we cheered on first responders instead. But those who play team sports lost more than something to cheer for. They lost shared experiences of friendship, the joy of working toward and achieving something together, and good old exercise.

As BC flattened the COVID-19 curve and our strange new normal began, the couple behind the Insiders Hocker League, Ian and Klara Bemister, set out to reinvent recreational hockey, to appeal to wider audiences. First, they deconstructed the old registration model by making their game a pay-to-play experience, where players register for as many or as few games as they like, paying $30 every time they lace up skates at the Langley Sportsplex. Insiders Hockey is a hybrid of traditional teams with an informal drop-in league, creating a great social dynamic.

That wasn’t all the Bemisters wanted for their new league, though. They also wanted a return to what should be the priority in team sports—fun. As Ian explains, “The biggest consumer in recreational hockey is the guy who just wants to lace up, have some fun, get some exercise, and have a drink with his buddies.”

But this isn’t just another boy’s club. While membership so far has been predominantly male, Ian says the league was entirely his wife’s brainchild. He has history in successfully managing teams at Burnaby 8 Rinks, but she’s got a Master’s degree in Sports Management.

So, they’re hoping to attract people of all backgrounds and skill levels, male or female, who’ve ever wanted to play the game but had apprehensions about hockey’s tough-guy reputation.

Hockey is so much more than just board-shaking hard corner hits. It’s about agility, speed, precision, teamwork, seeing the ice, and the thrill of scoring chances. When the aggression is taken out of hockey, it’s the fastest-moving human-powered team sport on the planet, a sport everyone should be able play.

For anyone who thinks smack-talk, fighting, and attitude belong on the ice, Ian’s got news for them—it doesn’t belong on the Insiders’ Hockey League ice.

When it comes to on-ice antics, there is no room for disrespect during the game. So, if you like yelling at the referee or your opponents, you’ll have to find another league to play in because Insiders Hockey League won’t allow that kind of behaviour to take place. It’s all about having good fun, playing competitively, and staying safe.

Inclusion is a big goal for Ian and Klara, and part of how they aspire to make it a league reality hinges on membership growing among those who lack experience and skills. The Bemisters want a league where lower-skilled players can play with others in their skill level. It’s all about making sure people feel welcomed and capable of playing at their comfort level, because that’s part of having fun on the ice.

Many Canadians grew up with ice-skating as a cornerstone of their winter activities, but Canada’s an immigrant nation too, and many newcomers haven’t had that history with skating. Ideally, even they will feel there’s a place for them in Insiders Hockey, so they can learn to love Canada’s sport.

If you’ve always wanted to play hockey but felt intimidated by your skill level or the aggressiveness in the pro leagues, this is your chance to join a league that welcomes all comers. Insiders Hockey League wants you to know there’s a place for you to learn the game, make some friends, get fit, and have good, clean fun.

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