Change has come to Hockey Nova Scotia for the 2015-16 season. In an effort to make the game more accessible and enjoyable for girls, the branch has
restructured its female hockey model. Teams will now be formed within six regional zones instead of within individual minor hockey associations.
The number of female players in the province dictated the decision. Currently there are 1,200 girls registered for female hockey. Running the system the
same way as it does for male hockey, which has more than 10 times as many players, just didn’t make sense, says Darren Cossar, executive director of Hockey
“We had girls who were playing at a level because of where they lived, not because of their skill set,” he says. Some girls were playing over their heads
and others were playing below their skill set. In both cases players weren’t getting as much as they could from the game. “We hope pooling girls in larger
geographical areas will allow us to form teams that place girls where their skill set places them.”
Instead of lack of numbers forcing a girl who wants to join an A level team to play AA in her own minor hockey association, she can now play at the level
she wants in her region. And by not having to play above – or below – her comfort and skill level she’s far more likely to continue playing.
“It’s about making the experience for the girl more enjoyable,” says Cossar.
The Western zone, for example, is made up of six minor hockey associations. A player who previously registered for the Chester Minor Hockey Association or
the Queens Minor Hockey Association would instead sign up for the Western zone through a central registry on the Hockey Nova Scotia website.
If, say, there are enough girls for one Bantam AA team, that team would be based out of a central area within the region.
“We’ll look to have a central rink for games and hopefully move practices around a bit so all of the minor hockey associations feel a part of it,” says
Cossar. “We hope to have every MHA host at least one team at some level, to assist in promoting the female game in all areas.”
Players on AA teams will still have to make their way around the province – “We just can’t get around that because of the number of girls and if you want
to play at the top level there’s going to be that travel,” says Cossar – but girls on A teams will stay closer to home.
The six regions will be divided into two conferences, with teams primarily playing games within their half of the province. Previously families had to trek
longer distances just for house league games. “There’s still going to be some travel because of the geographical makeup of our province,” says Cossar, “but
we hope to make it not as much at that level now.”
Newly created female hockey committees will place the players on teams. “In the past we had one person in a minor hockey association who was responsible
for female hockey,’ says Cossar. “Now we know we’re going to have a group of people looking out for the best interests of female hockey in each of those
six areas at the grassroots level. I think there are lots of opportunities to use those groups to help us grow the game.” One idea being considered, for
example, is having each new executive host at least one Try Hockey program in her zone this season, in addition to the programs, such as Esso Fun Days, the
branch regularly oversees each year.
Registration ran until June 30, a far earlier cut-off date than years past.
“We’d be scrambling to see who had enough girls to form a team,” says Cossar. Girls would get moved to another association at the last minute if a team in
their own had too many players. “With this new format and getting everybody to register early we can see the numbers and work on placement. Girls will know
heading into the season where they’re going to be playing.”
Hockey Alberta has also taken steps toward a more regional structure for female hockey. Implementation is still at least a season away, but the branch
recognized the need to act after seeing girls being moved up multiple age groups to help create teams in some minor hockey associations. While a formal
structure is not in place yet, the branch has already started spreading the word to its members about the benefits of offering programs that keep players
of similar ages and skill levels together.