Cowichan Secondary senior boys hockey team captain Mike Arscott (left) and teammate Matteo Iorio (14) combine to score against Shawnigan Lake School during the School Spirit Game at the Island Savings Centre on Dec. 18. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

High school hockey scores in the Cowichan Valley

Cow High program growing rapidly

Cowichan Secondary is at the middle of a surge in popularity of high school hockey in the Cowichan Valley.

According to Mike Moroz, who leads the ice hockey program at Cow High, about 100 kids are involved this year, up from around 64 last year.

“We’re so thrilled to see the growth of the program,” he said. “We’re really impressed with the way the players and their families have taken to the idea of high school hockey. We’re hearing from families how much of a difference it seems to be making for their other hockey because they’re getting more ice and more focus time. That’s pretty gratifying.”

Cow High has junior and senior boys teams and one girls team this year, mostly playing against other teams from across the Cowichan Valley. The senior boys take on competition from Shawnigan Lake School, Brentwood College School, Lake Cowichan School and Frances Kelsey Secondary. Organizers have been talking to schools up and down the Island about adding games before the season is over.

The Cowichan Secondary girls play most of their games against a combined team from Shawnigan and Brentwood — separate from Shawnigan’s prep team — which was originally put together for the Ross Cup tournament last year. The girls had hoped to compete in an Island-wide league this year, but that hasn’t yet come to fruition. It has been slower to develop than organizers would have liked, Moroz admitted, but progress is being made, with interest from the Cowichan Valley north to Tri-Port.

Because the Cow High girls team is sanctioned by BC Hockey, they are able to play games against other teams, a luxury that not all high school teams can boast. In late January and early February, the Thunderbirds will take part in WickFest, the massive female hockey tournament created by Hayley Wickenheiser. Originally based in Calgary, the tournament has expanded to Surrey, making it much easier for the Cowichan team to attend.

Cow High attempted to take part in the tournament in Calgary last year, but didn’t get BC Hockey accreditation in time. They jumped on the chance when the second WickFest was added in Surrey.

“For some of these girls, they’ve been planning and talking about it for two years,” Moroz noted. “This is exciting.”

There are 18 girls on the Cow High team, joined by a junior feeder program with about a dozen players from atom to bantam who attend morning practices with the older players.

“The thought is that when they get to Cowichan Secondary, they’ll be used to first-thing-in-the-morning practices and our program,” Moroz explained. “It’s been a terrific add-on.

“The players are so enthusiastic. There are some terrific female teams in the Cowichan Valley. It’s nice to get a variety of girls from all the age groups, and they get additional development through the high school program.”

After Christmas break, all three Cow High teams will get right back into action. In addition to WickFest for the girls team, all three T-Birds teams will take part in the 20th annual Ross Cup tournament hosted by Brentwood.

Team members include both house and rep players. There are about six rep players on the senior boys team and three or four on the junior team, Moroz estimated. In some cases, players played minor hockey together at the younger levels, but have been split up as they climbed the ranks. This is their first opportunity to skate together in many years.

“It’s nice for them to be able to represent the school and be able to play together again,” Moroz commented.

Moroz expressed his gratitude to the many community members, organizations and businesses that have helped keep the hockey program going.

“This would be impossible to do without the volunteer coaches and community partners, without breaking the back for families,” he said. “It allows us to keep the costs reasonable.

“Hockey is an awesome game, but if it’s not accessible to families, we all lose.”

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