Melanie Robertson

New era begins for high school girls hockey

This weekend’s Ross Cup hockey tournament hosted by Brentwood College School will be a historic one.

For the first time in its nearly two-decade history, the tournament will include a female division — which will also serve as a preview showcase for the newly accredited high school girls hockey league on Vancouver Island.

Entering its 19th year this week, the Ross Cup has served as a high school rec hockey championship for teams from Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. Historically, it has had 12 to 15 boys teams entered in senior and junior divisions. Five girls teams — both high school and minor hockey teams — will join the field this time around.

According to Tom Shadlock, Brentwood’s head of hockey, the tournament is branching out and entering its “next phase.”

“Our objective is to get kids on the ice of all genders, all skill levels,” he said.

Girls have skated with boys teams at the Ross Cup in the past, and Brentwood’s senior and junior teams will each have one female player on the roster this year. The inaugural girls tournament will include a joint entry from Brentwood and Shawnigan Lake School, a team from Cowichan Secondary School, and minor hockey teams from Juan de Fuca, Tri Port and Nanaimo — all representing communities that have expressed an interest in the high school girls league that will begin play next fall.

The labour of love of Cowichan Secondary teacher and hockey coach Mike Moroz, the high school girls league received approval from BC Hockey earlier this month. With full accreditation comes such benefits as access to insurance and all the other support that comes from BC Hockey, including officials and clinics.

Right now, Cowichan Secondary plays in an informal league — Moroz calls it the “Original Six — along with teams from Frances Kelsey, Lake Cowichan, Chemainus, Brentwood and Shawnigan, and also plays against recreational women’s teams. Other schools and communities from Sooke to Port Hardy have expressed interest in joining up, but have had their hands tied for various reasons. BC Hockey’s approval changes that.

“This really gets us kickstarted on putting together a league,” Moroz said.

Moroz has been pushing for accreditation for the last two years. BC Hockey has been working with the high school league organizers to certify the league, but it wasn’t until CEO Barry Petrachenko got involved that things got pushed over the finish line.

“Everybody thought it was a great idea,” Moroz said. “What we didn’t have was enough voices saying, ‘Let’s do this.’ It took Barry’s weight to tip in and move the file forward.”

Petrachenko lauded the concept of the high school league, and credited Moroz with making things happen.

“We are doing our best to promote our sport to female participants, and this concept is more than just a team or league,” the CEO said. “We want to leverage the energy and enthusiasm of Mike Moroz and the Cowichan Valley high school team to build a new pathway to the game for prospective female players.”

The Island league will be the first of its kind in the province, and will essentially be a laboratory to figure out how to structure similar organizations.

“We’re going to serve as a test case for what might be possible elsewhere,” Moroz said.

According to Petrachenko, the Cowichan Secondary program will also be a blueprint for future female teams across the province and an inspiration for young players across the region.

“We have developed a pilot project where this team will assist us in building a model for female high school hockey teams that will include outreach programs in local primary schools, utilizing the female high school players as mentors and role models for young girls who might otherwise never be exposed to the game,” he explained. “We hope to grow the pilot across the entire province and feel the school component can serve as the foundation for growth of the female game.”

Moroz noted that he did communicate with BC School Sports about sanctioning the Island league, but it just wasn’t possible to match up his vision with BC School Sports requirements, under which players on school teams need to be attending the school they represent. He wanted to make it possible for students to play elsewhere if their schools weren’t fielding teams.

“We didn’t want to exclude players,” he said. “We wanted to draw new students to the game.”

Cowichan Secondary’s team has had players from Kelsey on the roster, and includes skaters from three different minor hockey associations, things that BC Hockey was willing to work with.

Organizers will sit down sometime during the Ross Cup tournament to figure out the format for the new league when it starts up in the fall. Moroz points out that the league will be a work in progress as it moves forward.

“What it is in September may not be what it is in two years, five years or 10 years,” he said.

A lot of factors will go into determining what the league looks like in the fall and beyond. Moroz has visions of fashioning it after Winnipeg’s highly successful high school girls league. A formalized boys circuit is also on the table, with at least six schools expressing interest there as well.

The Cowichan Secondary girls team was created in part to provide more ice time for female minor hockey players, as most members of the squad play minor hockey as well. Moroz wants to make sure that spirit continues.

“We want to work with minor hockey as well,” he said. “We want to be a supplement to what they’re doing. It’s not meant to compete. It’s meant to augment.”

The Ross Cup tournament gets underway later this week, with boys games running Thursday to Saturday at Kerry Park Arena and girls games on Thursday and Saturday at Shawnigan Lake School’s Charlie Purdey Arena. Cowichan Secondary will have teams in each of the three divisions, Kelsey will have junior and senior boys teams, and Brentwood will have two entries in the junior boys group, one senior boys team, and the combined girls team with Shawnigan.

If a united team from the rival private schools sounds not unlike the united team from North and South Korea at the Olympics, Shadlock said there are a few differences. The idea for the squad came from the players, not the school brass, and the schools aren’t separated by a demilitarized zone.

“Our girls talk,” he laughed.

Cowichan and the combined Brentwood/Shawnigan team will square off this Thursday at 8 a.m. at Charlie Purdey Arena.

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Melanie Robertson

Melanie Robertson

Melanie Robertson skates for Cowichan Secondary in a game against a Nanaimo women’s team last month. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Maija Hermant

Melanie Robertson

Jenna Batty

Madeline Moroz

Tara Slone sports a Cowichan Secondary hockey hoodie during Hometown Hockey’s stop in the Cowichan Valley on Jan. 21. (Submitted)

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