High school hockey short on games, long on fun

Blink, and you might miss the BC High School Hockey League season.

But the brevity of the five-game regular season which is just wrapping up doesn’t diminish the passion of players to throw on their school colours and hit the ice. Matthew Last, the manager of the Dr. Charles Best Blue Devils, said he had 40 kids show up for try-outs prior to the mid-April start of the season.

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That timing is critical, Last said, because most of his roster is comprised of players trying to extend their minor hockey season that ended in March.

There are five teams from the Tri-Cities — Best, Riverside, Heritage Woods and two from Centennial — in the 17-team league that stretches from Point Grey in Vancouver to Yale in the Fraser Valley. The capability of players ranges from house league to minor and major midget.

Last said the chance to play with friends who might be on different minor hockey teams, or play against their teammates who attend different schools is what lures most players.

“School rivalry is a big thing,” he said. “It really allows kids to play together.”

Jordan Black, a Grade 12 forward, said playing for the Blue Devils is a nice way to keep sharp after his midget A1 minor hockey season ends.

“It’s a nice segue into summer,” he said, adding another attraction is the rule forbidding body contact in the league.

Black said that keeps the pace of games high and allows him to relax and get more creative with his playmaking on the ice because he’s not keeping one eye out for opposing players lining him up to mash him into the boards.

“The atmosphere is different,” he said.

That emphasis on skating and speed also benefits defensemen like Leyland Newfield-Cruze, a Grade 12 student in his second season with the Blue Devils.

“Because you can’t use your body, the biggest factor is being a good skater,” said Newfield-Cruze, who transferred from Port Moody secondary for Best’s french immersion program as well as to play for the hockey team after his school’s team folded.

Last said running a high school hockey team is expensive. As the league isn’t sanctioned by BC School Sports, it doesn’t receive funding from the governing body so players have to pony up $250 each to help pay for ice time at local arenas like Planet Ice. Scheduling can also be a challenge. In recent seasons games were played as late as 11 p.m. because that’s when sheets were available but now they’ve been moved to mid-afternoon, often requiring players to forsake their last block of classes on game day.

To keep costs down and scheduling headaches minimal, there’s also no opportunity to practise, Last said.

“It’s live coaching on the bench during a game,” he said, adding the minor hockey experience of most players means they’re already well-acquainted with drills and positioning anyway.

Mostly, the league is about fun, Last said.

“If we win, that’s great and if we lose that’s fine,” he said. “The kids are just so excited to be able to play.”

That’s a sentiment Newfield-Cruze can’t argue.

“I love hockey,” he said. “I want to play whenever I can.”

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