For BC Hockey, the message to Greater Trail minor hockey is clear, if you don’t buy into the Bantam AA Zone program, you’re out.
Last spring, the West Kootenay Hockey Association (WKHA) voted for the new Zone team, however, Greater Trail Minor Hockey Association (GTMHA) voted against it, preferring to maintain a strong community-based Bantam Rep team in the Okanagan Mainline Amateur Hockey Association (OMAHA) Tier 2 league.
“I guess there was an assumption made by us voting against the program that we were putting up walls against the program,” said GTMHA president Trent McNabb. “But that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
OMAHA has gone all-in with BC Hockey supplying four of seven teams in the BC Bantam AA Zone Program, including OMAHA North, OMAHA South, OMAHA Thompson, and OMAHA Central. An East Kootenay Bantam AA team also competes, and this year BC Hockey and OMAHA attempted to get the WKHA to rally behind a West Kootenay Bantam AA Zone team.
“This year, we were told by (BC Hockey president) Barry Petrachenko that we would not be allowed to play Tier 2 because there was a Zone program in place that they were trying to run,” said McNabb.
The three-year pilot project to install Bantam Zone teams throughout BC is in its final year and has effectively eliminated Bantam and Midget Tier-1 and Tier-2 Rep community teams across BC, replacing them with regional Minor Midget AA, Major Bantam AAA, and Bantam AA Zone teams.
In the West Kootenay, however, the WKHA attempt to start a Bantam AA Zone team ultimately failed.
The players returned to their teams and competed in the OMAHA Tiering process, in which the Trail Bantams handily defeated the Tier 2 and Tier 3 teams. Yet, OMAHA demoted the Trail Bantam Reps to Tier 3, excluded them from playing in the league it has competed in for the past 15 years, and relegated Trail’s status to exhibition only.
Yet, at the same time, the Castlegar Rep team was accepted into the OMAHA Bantam Tier 3 league as a full participant.
“I don’t understand why they (Castlegar) are allowed to play in the league and we’re only allowed exhibition,” questioned McNabb.
Petrachenko told the Trail Times that WKHA requested the Zone team back in April, but was unable to bring it to fruition, due to the lack of participation from GTMHA players.
“Trail has a cohort of Bantam players that are pretty good, apparently,” said Petrachenko. “They came out to tryouts and then decided they didn’t want to take part, which is fine. So that shifted our ability to provide a program from being a full-time team to what we’re calling a Select team.”
To add insult to injury, Greater Trail Bantam Reps are unable to play in Tier 2 tournaments and will go from playing close to 50 games per year to playing a dozen WKHA games and another eight exhibition matches in the OMAHA.
“We’ve always applied to Tier 2 tournaments and historically we’d send paperwork into WKHA and it was almost a rubber stamp,” said McNabb. “For some reason this year, we’re not allowed to.”
OMAHA’s support of the regional-team concept received backlash from Greater Vernon and other Okanagan minor hockey associations as well last year, but eventually the associations came to an agreement and now play within the OMAHA construct. Trail now finds itself in the same position.
“If Trail wants to run a local program and the players want to choose it, then they need to understand what that option is,” said Petrachenko. “The Okanagan made it clear to Trail that that Tier 2 option wouldn’t be available unless there was a viable Zone team that Trail supported.
“The message from the Okanagan is look, ‘You’re a Tier 3 association, but because we have Zone hockey in the Okanagan, our Tier 3 is really like Tier 4. So if you bring in your Tier 3 team, you can’t play at our Tier 3 level. We’re not going to offer you a Tier 2 level because you don’t have a Zone program to pull from because you’ve chosen to opt out of it.’
“If you’re not going to support the Zone, then we’re not going to accommodate you.”
With the loss of Rep programs, GTMHA and other BC hockey associations are struggling to maintain their identity and the rich history and traditions that go along with it. It is the stuff that dreams are made of and makes Trail minor hockey so appealing to many young players, coaches and parents, and losing control of Midget Rep and now Bantam Rep is a slippery slope.
“It’s an argument we hear a lot because of what drives people’s participation as volunteers, coaches and administrators is their passion, and a lot of them have grown up wearing that logo and they desperately want it to be like it was,” said Petrachenko. “But we have the benefit of the perspective that things have changed and will continue to change, and the game isn’t what it was.
“Trail happens to be in a position this year where they do have this strong cohort, but if that cohort was smaller and if it is next year or the year after then they may be in the position of wanting the Zone program to go and wanting the help of other associations to augment their players.”
For McNabb and many concerned parents and coaches, the rep teams should be allowed to play up to their capability, and not be penalized by OMAHA or BC Hockey for the WKHA’s inability to ice a Zone team.
“We actually encouraged all the parents to go to the Zone program if they felt they wanted to, and it was their choice,” said McNabb. “We’re not trying to influence them or make the decision for them and it is their money to spend.
“These are 13-14 year old kids, they just want to play.”