Victoria is hosting hundreds of Western Canada’s top male ball hockey youths this week for the Western Challenge Cup.
The 45-team tournament has five divisions, U11, U13, U15, U17 and U19, with up to 15 players per team. The Western Challenge Cup is hosted by the Greater Victoria Minor Ball Hockey Association, which is entering one team into each division, all as Victoria Vipers.
“For us to get this tournament is a testament to how quickly ball hockey has grown in Victoria,” said Nan Aulakh, a director with the GVMBA and one of the many volunteers putting together the WCC. “The growth is a bit scary at times. We were a small collection of parents and kids organizing a small number of games. Now we have more than 500 athletes.”
(Video shows Victoria Vipers practice ahead of Thursday’s WCC.)
The tournament starts on Thursday after many months worth of work, with about 90 games in total happening at CFB Esquimalt’s Wurtele, Esquimalt’s Archie Browning, North Saanich’s Panorama and Langford’s Eagle Ridge rinks.
Teams are coming in from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. That includes 10 teams from the Edmonton and Sherwood Park area, and many from the Lower Mainland. Each is a regional elite team, with clubs pooling the best available talent for each age group.
“When you see the U15 Sherwood Park BallHogz and Alberta Extreme, you’re seeing the best players in that group, among the best in Alberta,” Aulakh said.
Last year the GVMBA sent more teams to the WCC in Sherwood Park than any other association, which Aulakh believes led to them winning the right to host it this year.
“We were told they appreciated our commitment and our dedicated group of volunteers,” Aulakh said.
The challenge in putting together the WCC went far beyond finding the arenas to host the requisite number of games, Aulakh added.
“t’s finding sponsors to cover the costs, it’s finding referees, because we do have wonderful referees in Victoria but not enough, and it’s finding volunteers for so many things.”
Don’t under estimate the economic impact as entire sections of hotels have been blocked off for teams travelling in.
GVMBA has five U15 boys who will also play for Team BC in Fredericton, N.B., for nationals at the end of July, plus two more on the U17 team and one on the U19 team.
From the sidelines
The skate-free version of hockey is similar due to the rink. It’s five-on-five with shift changes. However, offsides work differently in ball hockey. Once the puck carrier crosses the blue line into the opponent’s zone, the offensive zone expands back to the centre line. Rules are also designed to be safer, with no body contact permitted at any age and automatic high-sticking calls over the shoulders.