As we head into the
holidays, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the past year and a half
of hockey under the Representative Partnership between Simcoe, Waterford and
Port Dover Minor Hockey Associations. Looking back, I believe you will all
agree, what an unpredictable journey it has been.
On top of the usual sacrifices our volunteers make season in and season out, our coaches, trainers, managers, on ice help and your board of directors have been tasked with duties beyond what any of us signed up for in the beginning. I want to thank all of the volunteers who have stepped up during these uncertain times to ensure our players can safely stay on the ice. The reward of seeing the smiling faces is why we do it and I am proud to be part of a safe return to sport program for all.
As Covid 19 cases rise again across the province, I wanted to remind everyone of the importance of adhering to all of the safety protocols in place to keep us on the ice. Some of these include wearing a mask, complying with the facility access proof of vaccination measures and perhaps the most important, staying home if you feel unwell.
Health Canada has approved a vaccination for 5-11 year olds. As an association, we strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinated, where possible, for the safety of the player and also their friends and family.
We continue to monitor the ever-changing situation and will continue to follow Local PHU and facility mandates as the situation evolves.
With half a season of normalized hockey under our belt, I think it’s important to turn the microscope inwards and highlight both our successes and challenges. Call it a mid-term report card if you like. Let start by reviewing the key drivers and goals of the partnership:
- Our three minor hockey associations have the shared priority of offering our members a hockey program that maximizes development and enjoyment of the game. If we are successful in accomplishing this we will see our players play hockey both longer and locally.
- In the past, each of our associations struggled to offer comprehensive hockey programming to our members across all divisions. To address this, we executed on a plan to consolidate the representative division in an effort to provide a spectrum of play that matches our player’s skills/abilities and desires. It was equally important that this consolidation not disrupt the underlying local league structure that is key to supporting this consolidation.
- By entering the “Partnership Agreement” our Boards approved a cooperative model which we were confident would improve the hockey opportunities available to all players while maintaining the “hometown hockey” experience our members value and expect. Under this framework, your Local Minor Hockey Association continues to operate your local league program and represent the interests of all your members.
- By entering the Partnership Agreement our member Associations aimed to deliver a superior hockey program which would see teams comprised of players of more consistent hockey ability, and help create the opportunity for associations to better cooperate on coach and player development initiatives. It was our hope and expectation that these benefits would be seen at both the rep and local league levels.
These were certainly some lofty goals and I am pleased to report that thus far, we seem to be executing on the plan.
Fall tryouts at all divisions were required this year due to covid realities as well as the OMHA’s interest in seeing more tryouts at this time of year. While our “A” level tryouts had to wait for AAA and AA tryouts to conclude, in the interim we were very pleased to offer many weeks of development skates to help our players get back on the ice as soon as possible and work on their skills in advance of tryouts. Cooperation amongst all associations and the incoming Norfolk coaches was needed to pull this off, and we thank everyone for their early efforts.
Norfolk tryouts were a new experience held during hectic times and with new realities. In the end they concluded successfully, and included the use of new evaluation tools and independent evaluation panels. We thank all those that showed interested in the teams and attended the tryouts, and for the independent evaluators who gave up their time to support a fair and unbiased selection process.
There was tremendous uncertainty regarding whether the Norfolk Knight teams would be competitive in our inaugural year, with many players playing together and at a higher level of hockey for the first time. We now know that we have great players, and great teams.
All of our Norfolk Knight teams have winning records in the Niagara District Hockey League, with a combined record of 103-33-32. What is there to say - truly impressive.
In addition to Niagara League success, our U11 team won the Peggie Hill Classic Tournament in Barrie, our U12 team won both the Peggie Hill Class Tournament in Barrie as well as the Jim Wilson Chevrolet Buick Tournament in Orillia, and our U13 team won the Milton Invitational Showdown. Other teams have had great finishes in tournament too. For example, all five Norfolk teams playing in the Barrie tournament competed in at least the tournament semi-finals, despite the tournament hosting a large field of teams in each division. Tremendous.
Combined with continued skating and goalie development and the additional hours on the ice that we have offered for “A” hockey, player feedback has been very positive.
The Representative Partnership appears to be a true success at the Norfolk level.
There have been two primary challenges realized in our inaugural “regular programming” season of under the Representative Partnership arrangement:
1) At the Norfolk “A” level we were unable to field a U14 team. This was due to low player tryout turnout and concern over the competitive level of play. With the overall success of the Norfolk Knight’s season this year and through the continued development of players at the local league level, we hope this can be remedied next year so that we can provide an “A” level opportunity at this age.
2) We had hoped to provide hockey opportunities for players between the local league and “A” hockey levels. This would mean providing Alternate Entry (“AE”) teams or select teams at various ages.
While we are now seeing limited select teams being formed at the local league level, we weren’t generally able to provide these AE or Select team opportunities. This was in part because of how quickly the season unfolded and the uncertainty in organizing and assessing player interest and ability for play at these levels, and also because of the critical lack of ice time at Norfolk arenas.
The closing of the Simcoe Rec Centre has had a profound impact on overall ice availability for all users. Many adult leagues have folded entirely, while others are playing at unattractive times, limiting participation. Further to this, our ice times have shifted to use whatever ice time we can get, including earlier mornings, later evenings, and practicing in Delhi and Langton. Despite these changes, we have completely maximized our use of Norfolk’s usable ice, thereby limiting growth opportunities like AE and Select teams.
Norfolk Hockey will be making representations to Norfolk County regarding our current ice needs and anticipated future requirements.
As I mentioned at the outset, when the Representative Partnership Agreement between Simcoe, Port Dover and Waterford was entered we certainly didn’t foresee having our initial years of operation being conducted under these circumstances. That said, with a lot of hard work and determination, all associations have come together to ensure that our partnership is a success – for all players.
At this mid-season time, I believe it is a fair assessment to say that our combined hockey program has been a resounding success at both the local league and representative levels, and that we have been able to offer a superior hockey program to that which we could have offered if we had not cooperated in this way in these challenging times.
Our found success – in improved team structure, player development, player enjoyment, and team success – was the vision of the representative partnership. The vision would not have become a reality, however, without a lot of hard work and members support.
That said, we still see areas for improvement. As we finish the balance of the 2021-2022 season, we will continue to critically assess our program and look for opportunities to make it even better next year.
In the meantime, have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and I look forward to seeing you soon at the rink!
Norfolk Minor Hockey Association