Juan de Fuca proudly celebrated four of its teams last month for winning their respective divisions in Vancouver Island Amateur Hockey Association play this season.
Grizzlies teams captured first in the midget Division 1, bantam Div. 1 and 2 and pee wee Div. 1. All four of those teams are in the midst of their opening playoff rounds and are attempting to win their way into the next round, en route to a possible provincial championship berth.
The success in Island league play of the nine rep teams, whose members make up a relatively small percentage of the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey Association’s more than 700 players, continues to show how the association’s development strategies are working, says president Harold Bloomenthal.
“We only became a Tier 1 association about four years ago,” he says, referring to the status that takes into account the total number of players an association has registered in midget, bantam and pee wee.
“For us, we’re probably the smallest Tier 1 association in B.C.; we’ve just passed that threshold. If we’re trying to compete at the Tier 1 level it can be quite challenging. We won quite a few of the Tier 2 provincials when we were playing at that level.”
He points to the association’s coach mentoring program as a big reason why players are learning skills at an earlier age and transferring that knowledge to the ice, all the way through the divisions. Coaches who are dedicated to learning work with experienced mentors on a regular basis and as a result, more are sticking around than in past years, Bloomenthal says. Of Juan de Fuca’s total number of 45 teams, 35 had returning head coaches.
That makes for great continuity, he adds. Along with a more realistic player placement system and an association-wide policy toward even play, the kids are happier, he says. “We’ve got some kids who have never played rep before suddenly emerge in midget.”
All in all, the rep success may be a high-profile measurement for the association, but that success begins with a cohesive strategy to teach young players from the moment they step onto the ice, Bloomenthal says.
“There’s nothing better than to see the kids, see their smiles and how they’re playing and how they’re enjoying the game.”