The Female Midget AAA Kootenay Wild hockey season has been put on ice by the BC Hockey League, after diminished numbers forced the league to cancel the Wild’s program.
“It was very unfortunate that this happened,” said Wild GM Dara Waterstreet in an email to the Times. “We had a great 2016/17 season and had a goal of doing even better this semester.”
After moving the hockey program from Nelson to Trail and the J. L. Crowe High Performance Hockey Academy last year, the Wild enjoyed a breakout season in 2016-17, winning the most games in its history and finishing in fourth place in the six-team league.
The Wild opened their camp at the end of August with new coach, Darrell Boisvert, and high hopes. Kootenay was poised to ice 11 returning players and last year’s eight affiliate players were set to join the roster for the upcoming season, but somewhere along the way numbers dwindled.
“We thought we were well set up for this season,” said Waterstreet. “Of our 11 returnees, we found out that four were going elsewhere and five of the seven we expected to return had decided they would not be returning.”
Three more no-shows and only five commits from the eight APs forced the team to look outside the area to bolster the lineup. Yet, after bringing in two skaters from Whitehorse and one from the coast, it left the Wild with only 10 players and a goalie.
For BC Hockey, the numbers were insufficient.
“The female side ultimately came up against too large a challenge in drawing players,” BC Hockey president Barry Petrachenko told the Times. “It really comes down to that. We have some work to do for sure in developing the female game and we’re not giving up, we expect to have a team back but it’s going to take some time to build up that pool, and we have to commit to doing that now.”
Competition with Canadian Sports School academies for players has seen demand exceed supply, and it isn’t just Kootenay that is having difficulties recruiting and committing players. The Northern Capitals, Island Seals, and Okanagan Lakers were all looking for players following their respective camps.
“This is not a unique situation,” said Petrachenko. “Each one of our midget league teams is feeling the effect of the player recruitment to other programming and the options they have. We did start down the road of looking to other areas (for Kootenay), but found the other zone teams were not flush with players, or players that had made their team, so in the end, it wasn’t something that was going to help us much at all.”
Despite the efforts of Waterstreet and Boisvert to move forward with 11 skaters, BC Hockey deemed it unsafe to proceed with so few players, were concerned about the stress factor, and questioned the team’s ability to compete. According to Petrachenko, the league was out of options and, regrettably, the fate of the team came down to numbers.
“We did everything we could, it just didn’t work out and we had to do it. Even at the time we were making the decision and knowing it was the right thing to allow the girls who were still interested in the program to transfer to other teams, but it just felt wrong. We’re trying to get it back in the right direction, but as I said, it’s going to take a bit of time.”
Two of the Wild players found spots with the Northern Capitals this season, while another went to the Okanagan Lakers, and two more to the Okanagan Hockey Academy, but it still left a handful of local talent with nowhere to play.
“There’s just so many factors of where girls choose to play, and unfortunately once you lose a couple of players in the female game, the others start to look at other options.”
The BC Hockey president says that while opportunities abound for elite midget players, the possibility of filling their spots has decreased substantially. The failing point for BC Hockey is the league’s inability to grow the game to a point where all positions could be filled.
“The one’s I really feel bad about are the four or five that now have no team, and so we try our best to find spots for them. But that’s the thing, you lose a program like this, there’s always going to be somebody that doesn’t have a place to land and hopefully they’re not going to be out of hockey.”
For Waterstreet, the disappointment is palpable, but is determined to reboot the program next year.
“I am hopeful that we will see the program successful again in the future but am unsure if BC Hockey will be willing to give us a shot,” she said. “Fingers crossed.”
Restoring the program and recruiting players to a team that doesn’t exist will take a lot of work, added the president. But when asked, ‘if there is any chance there will be a Wild team in place next year?’ – he sounded optimistic.
“There is a chance for sure, it all comes down to players … To operate a team is not a problem, it’s really finding enough quality players that want to be a part of the program.
“We’re not going to give up on it. We know that female hockey in the Kootenays is strong and has a lot of good people involved in it, so we’re going to call upon them and try and turn this thing around.”