By Ezra Black
Half the ice means twice the fun but also twice the headaches for the Fernie Minor Hockey Association’s pre-Atom teams.
In July, BC Hockey partnered with Hockey Canada to launch the Cross Ice Initiation Program across all BC and Yukon Minor Hockey Associations.
The program is designed to teach the fundamentals of hockey to the province’s youngest players by having them play cross-ice, which is the width of the rink instead of the length.
Starting this season, all pre-Atom hockey teams, which include players at the Initiation, Novice, Tyke, and U5-8 levels are now mandated to play cross-ice because according to BC Hockey, a regular ice surface is too big for tiny players to learn the fundamentals of the sport.
According to Hockey Canada, cross-ice games result in twice the number of puck battles, six times more shots per player and three times more passes for pre-Atom players compared to full ice games.
But the new system is not perfect, said representatives of the Fernie Minor Hockey Association, especially for the border towns of the Elk Valley.
Aside from BC Hockey and the Saskatchewan Hockey Association, no province or U.S. state has implemented the cross-ice program, which means the Fernie Jr. Ghostriders will be missing out on cross-border tournaments this season.
“Those teams aren’t interested in coming to Fernie if they can’t play full ice games,” said Deb Davidson, the Jr. Ghostriders’ pre-novice team manager. “And BC Hockey is preventing us from participating in any full ice games in Alberta or Montana.”
Davidson said BC Hockey will not sanction the Jr. Ghostriders to play in full-ice tournaments at the pre-Atom level. Fernie Minor Hockey has been threatened with having their sanctions pulled for all levels, not just pre-Atom, if they do not comply, she said.
As a result, the Jr. Ghostriders will be missing a tournament in Crowsnest Pass, Alberta and Whitefish, Montana this season, she said.
“It’s causing problems,” said Davidson. “And I wish BC Hockey could be a bit more lenient.”
Marty Williams, Jr. Ghostriders equipment manager, commiserated with Davidson because it can be difficult to get teams into tournaments.
“You’ve got to be on the ball at the beginning of the year and get all the parents on board,” he said. “It’s not an easy process and if you’re limited to B.C. it makes it even harder.”
In addition there are costs to implement the program. Fernie Minor Hockey is investing in a new board to halve the Memorial Arena rink at the centre line. Williams said the board has been ordered at the cost of about $11,000. In the meantime they’ve been dividing the rink with foam mats.
“I see what they’re trying to do,” said Williams. “Any time you implement anything new there’s going to be growing pains with the changes and I think that once everybody buys in and Alberta doesn’t buck the system that it’ll probably work.”
Despite the difficulties, Williams said Fernie’s youngest players will be better able to master fundamental hockey skills by playing cross-ice.
“My daughter can barely skate so for her to have a smaller ice surface and a smaller net, it makes sense,” he said.
Davidson’s husband Doug, coach of the Jr. Ghostriders novice team, agrees.
“They get to touch the puck more, the goalie gets more shots on goal and it’s teaching them to be up close and in contact with each other,” he said. “I was pretty skeptical at first but as soon as you get into it you see the differences.”