Greater Trail Minor Hockey Association has started a petition in hopes that BC Hockey reconsiders its non-sanctioned league policy against the BC Hockey League (BCHL).
The policy includes banning BCHL officials and linesmen from refereeing games of BC Hockey members like Trail minor hockey. It also prohibits any coach or player of a BCHL team like the Trail Smoke Eaters from coaching or mentoring teams and players in minor hockey programs, and BCHL teams can no longer call up affiliate players from KIJHL teams such as the Beaver Valley Nitehawks or Castlegar Rebels.
“BC Hockey’s decision to punish the BCHL for leaving their association is having negative effects on minor hockey associations throughout B.C.,” reads the GTMHA online petition.
“Although, BC Hockey has provided a pathway for exemptions in their Non-Sanctioned League Policy, it has proven to be a long, drawn-out process and it does not provide a solution to our biggest issue, which is an exemption for officials to work in sanctioned and non-sanctioned hockey.”
The concerns come after eight senior officials from the West Kootenay committed to referee in the BCHL, which the GTMHA says can be potentially crippling for U15 to U18 divisions and in particular the KIJHL.
GTMHA president Paul Laratta says there may be only seven officials remaining, given that five more are not planning on returning, totalling over 150 missed minor hockey officiating assignments.
“Of those, four either play or officiate the KIJHL and now will be even busier given the loss of the BCHL refs for the KIJHL and likely will be less available to do minor hockey. Our only solution we can see is to request permission to use the BCHL officials to help cover minor hockey games, but it has fallen on deaf ears.”
The Trail Times spoke to BC Hockey president Cameron Hope, who said the petition was an unfortunate response to BC Hockey’s attempt to support its membership.
He says BC Hockey and its volunteers have trained and mentored the vast majority of referees, many for years, adding that minor hockey league members across B.C. will likely be impacted.
“This isn’t the only community where this is happening,” said Hope. “But there are other ways to deal with that. We can either dismiss a policy that our members want, which will get us all in trouble, or we can adapt.”
Hope suggests if there are shortages, games may have to be refereed by a reduced number of officials until the ecosystem is able to recover.
“In the end, this isn’t new. We’re not imposing new sanctions and trying to punish people. This is something that has been in place long before the BCHL left and they knew this was going to happen and put a lot of people in a bad position.”
Another concern of Trail minor hockey is the ongoing struggle to find volunteers to successfully run an association of approximately 400 players, when there is a possibility of an official shortage.
As a result, the Trail minor hockey board is considering canceling home tournaments in some divisions.
”We understand a precedent has been set where officials have worked in non-sanctioned leagues in the past and have still worked in minor hockey games and we would like this to be allowed for this season and all seasons to follow,” said Laratta.
According to Hope, as BC Hockey president, he is charged with maintaining and enforcing the rules and policies voted on by BC Hockey members, and for a policy change to occur it would have to go through the membership at the annual general meeting.
“The policies at the Hockey Canada level and the BC Hockey level around non-sanctioned hockey are pretty thoughtful,” he said. “We don’t do anything to try to hurt our membership and we apply it very fairly.
“It’s a little bit tricky particularly in communities with longstanding relationships with the local BCHL club, which is important. We don’t do anything to try to clip the wings of the relationship that minor hockey had with the Smoke Eaters or anyone else. We are all in this for the good of hockey.”
Hope says that the Smoke Eaters can still maintain their relationship with minor hockey, such as run development camps and have teams play between periods, but as the Smoke Eaters are no longer members, they are not covered by BC Hockey insurance and have to go through a process to ensure player safety.
However, Hope is not happy with the petition and letter sent out by GTMHA this week, adding that it is rife with misinformation.
“Rather than go through those steps and work with the office and understand it, there are self-interested groups who have decided, mostly anonymously, to go on the attack and to use digital activism through petitions, through email campaigns,” said Hope.
“It’s really toxic in a non-profit ecosystem that relies on volunteers because it drives people out of the game. And it doesn’t work, because all the petitions in the world can’t change the policy the members have agreed on.”
Still, GTMHA is hopeful that a compromise can be reached, or brace for the impact and, as Hope advises, try to adapt.
“It’s not a good situation,” said Laratta. “We are still trying to figure out how Trail minor hockey is being held in the middle of this battle and what harm could come from BCHL officials working minor hockey games.”
The petition can be found at change.org and has almost 570 signatures as of Thursday, Aug. 10.