Peninsula Minor Hockey coach Holly Reid takes a few younger skaters through a stickhandling drill in this file photo from a recent All Girls Day of Hockey at Panorama Recreation Centre. Steven Heywood/News staff)

Capital Region Female Minor Hockey Association faces hurdles

Existing minor hockey groups have until Sept. 30 to vote on new girls hockey association

(Updated Sept. 19 to clarify the proposal’s playing stipulations)

A proposal for an all-female minor hockey association is being considered by Greater Victoria minor hockey groups this month and will be the topic of discussion at a special meeting of the Peninsula Minor Hockey Association September 14 in Sidney.

On the table is the creation of the Capital Region Female Minor Hockey Association (CRFMHA), which would be the area’s first such organization, mirroring others that have been around in B.C. and Canada for decades. However, the proposal is not meeting with universal approval.

Spearheaded by Dr. Ian Fleetwood, a volunteer with Saanich Minor Hockey, the CRFMHA is proposing to draw in female hockey players from across the region’s 13 municipalities. A summary of girls hockey in the region in a proposal document by Fleetwood, indicates there are 330 players, making for possibly the largest female MHA in B.C.

The proposal is coming on the heels of a recent policy suggestion by the Vancouver Island Amateur Hockey Association that would have had all female players play on girls teams first, before joining co-ed teams. It’s goal, says Jim Humphrey, president of the VIAHA, was to try to encourage more girls into the sport — something he said is in decline.

“It’s on life support,” Humphrey said of the state of female hockey on the Island. “We thought that (the proposal) was a win-win.”

However, he said the threat of lawsuits over rights violations on where girls can or cannot play hockey, made most people within the member associations back off.

The policy change is now considered by most — even the head of the VIAHA — to be dead.

Still, Humphrey said, there has been a decline in overall numbers in girls hockey.

“We have to do something. We don’t want it to be the status quo.”

That’s one of the goals of the CRFMHA — which is not connected to the now-defunct VIAHA policy change.

In the proposal, Fleetwood outlines the lack of opportunities for girls’ teams, leading some players to leave the sport. The idea is to create infrastructure to sustain girls hockey over the long term and not be at the whim of groups of girls and parents who pass through their respective minor hockey associations.

“Of the 15 largest metropolitan areas in Canada, Victoria is the only one with no female MHA,” states the report.

The CRFMHA would not restrict where girls wish to play hockey, allowing players to be on girls teams in the new association, or play for co-ed teams elsewhere.

“The primary issue here is that the VIAHA initiative in May would have forced most girls to play on a female team before registering for an “integrated” team (with boys) if space was available,” Fleetwood stated in a recent email. “The CRFMHA proposal gives them the choice of all-female (CRFMHA) or co-ed (existing MHAs), but would not allow them to play for two separate teams.”

That could be problematic, said Humphries. He said once a player leaves a spot within any minor hockey association, the local association can choose to fill it with another player. That means there’s the potential for players to be unable to suit up for those co-ed teams.

Chad Rintoul, president of Peninsula Minor Hockey, stated in an email there are around 54 females registered this season. Their association sees many of those girls on integrated teams, he continued, and they do offer all-female teams.

“Currently, registration numbers support two all-female teams at PMHA,” he wrote. “One at the Pee Wee level and one at the Bantam level. In my personal view, those numbers should be much higher.”

Rintoul added Peninsula is currently the only south Island association with two female hockey teams, while the Sooke and Juan de Fuca associations have one team each. At one time, PHMA had up to four all-girls teams.

He said there are several people within PMHA who actively support the concept of the CRFMHA, and if the overall membership and board does as well after the Sept. 14 meeting, “I will signal our support to (VIAHA).”

The VIAHA has given all seven Greater Victoria-area MHAs until the end of September to discuss the proposal. Once they have, Humphrey said if they approve it, it will be sent to the VIAHA’s general meeting — possibly in the new year — where it would need the assent of all 17 of its member associations.

“We’ve asked the south Island MHAs to comment on it first, as it affects them,” Humphrey said. “We’ve already heard from four of those seven associations.”

Humphrey said he wouldn’t disclose what those four association have said about the CRFMHA, but did add “the last three votes don’t matter,” suggesting the first four are unanimous in their support — or their opposition.