Kitimat is a hockey town. Or is it?
There’s a pall hanging over the ranks at Kitimat Minor Hockey which has come from an ongoing conflict of philosophies: is it the House or the Rep teams which should get the most attention?
For awhile it seemed to be the Rep teams, those teams which play more competitively and spend more time travelling.
For some parents there may not be much appetite in enrolling their kids in hockey if it means they won’t compete on a serious stage.
Yet the focus on Rep hockey has left some House teams in the lurch.
Case in point; the Midget House team has no more players left — after other Midget level players were carded to rep — to fill an entire roster.
It’s effectively a clash of ideologies. Should hockey primarily be about the competitions, or should it be about the game?
Brent Gurski is a director on the Kitimat Minor Hockey association, and the coach of the aforemention Midget House team.
He came to the Sentinel with the problem as he sees it: a lot of kids are missing out on ice time because too many kids are being swept up into the Rep level.
“House has always suffered. It’s just been a natural way things have gone,” said Gurski.
He’s been involved in minor hockey for six years, joining the association when his son began playing.
The issue of Rep versus House has been compounded with the association’s drop in numbers over the years. Gurski says when he joined, there were close to 180 players.
“Today we have less than 110.”
Gurski says there’s been years of issues.
Two years ago, he says, there weren’t enough players left after the Rep team was recruited at the Bantam level that players were merged under a Peewee/Bantam
Now the problem has gotten worse.
“There’s not enough kids leftover from the Peewee rep and the Bantam rep to even make a team,” he said, saying kids have to wait for the Rep teams to be back home before they can play hockey.
Gurski doesn’t see the value in pushing so hard for Rep teams, given that minor hockey hasn’t lifted a championship banner in the time he’s been involved. He says that’s simply because “we don’t have the pool of kids that we used too.”
For him, House needs to come first. If you can play better than House, you might have to look beyond Kitimat.
“What we need is to go back to the basics of letting the kids play House. If you’re better than House you need to go somewhere else to play.”
Kitimat Minor Hockey President Bento Pedro says that he does in principle agree that House needs to be re-prioritized but it’s a direction that’s set based on the desires of the members.
“The executive is taking direction that the majority are still wanting to do this, so that’s how we’re running the association. Now, is that fair? On the flip side people are saying ‘is it fair for the Rep kids not to play Rep’?
“You have the same argument on the other side of the fence,” he said.
He said this is the fourth season where Peewee and Bantam House teams have been blended to get enough players to make a team.
There are parents who say, though, that if there’s no Rep hockey then they’ll pull their family out, he said.
But Pedro agrees with Gurski’s assessment about the strength of the club based on the numbers.
“Are we strong enough right now to…bring that championship banner home? Personally I say no. We don’t have the strength.”
He believes that kids need guarantees that they’ll play, by taking away Rep carding of players, to bring people back in to the fold.
“That’d be I think the only way that you’d ever get people to come back out of the woodwork and say ‘okay, lets give it a try again.’”
When it comes to the Midget House team, in order to get them back on the ice he said the board is looking to pair them together with affiliated players.
Those are the players who didn’t quite get carded to the Rep team but are able to play on both streams of hockey.
As well with a rotation in of some Rep players, they hope that will gather enough bodies together to make the team work again.
As for the overall drop in membership over the years, he says it can be anything.
“You can blame all sorts of things,” he said.
Among the theories is the fact that being a construction town the increase in people haven’t meant more families to join the association.
The cost of the sport can also hold people back, although Pedro notes there are programs, including through the District of Kitimat, to help offset costs of joining sports.
Bottom line though is with the lower number of kids playing hockey today, the challenges in making everyone happen are extreme.
“It’s easy to do when you have a lot of kids,” he said.