FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – The Northeast BC Predators female hockey program is ready to drop the puck on the 2021-2022 season, complete with a new team at the U13 level.
Training camp for the Predators’ three age groups was held at the end of August in Tumbler Ridge, and Predators club President Angela Ayre says tryouts were full of excitement, energy and relief to be back in the rink.
“It’s been almost a year since the players have played their last games, so everyone’s excited to be back,” said Ayres. “For most of the season last year, even though we were only practising, the parents had to sit in their vehicles in the parking lot, so it’s nice to be able to have spectators again.”
Ayres says turnout in all three divisions was good, something that’s hard to predict in female hockey.
“Some years, different age groups go through waves of better turnout. We had a great turnout for all of the age groups, and it made for really competitive games at camp.”
It’s important to have a U13 team in the system so that players grow up with the Predators and are less likely to leave, says Ayres.
“We finally have enough interest in competitive level at that early age to do a full-time team at U13. Our hope is that players aren’t going to get to a certain age and leave. We’re hoping to fill that lack of competitive hockey for females in the north.”
While Ayres says she loves to see players go on to higher levels of hockey, she recognizes the importance of hockey closer to home.
“We do have some players that have gone on, which is pretty exciting. They’ve gone even higher than what we offer, but it’s pretty awesome to be able to offer a competitive program close to home.”
Ayres says girls are starting to see a pathway in hockey, thanks to the exposure female hockey is getting. Events like Canada’s IIHF Women’s World Championship win at the end of August are helping stoke the fire.
“We loved watching that. I’m sure a lot of the players were tuned in for that. They’re starting to see a pathway for players. That growth and the broadcasting of those kinds of events inspires so many female players to sign up.”
Every few weeks, a different location will host a ‘Super Weekend’ where teams at all age groups converge to play a showcase event. There’s the obvious benefit of reduced travel and logistics, but Ayres says it makes for a really fun atmosphere at the rink.
“In October, everyone kicks off league play. The format we have is a Super Weekend format, so every few weeks, we meet all the teams in our league and do a round-robin setup. We’ll usually get three games in a weekend. Distance is a fact of life for us. We have to be travelling to be playing hockey. It’s kind of the most efficient way of doing it.”
The Predators will host the Super Weekend in early November, in line with another large event.
“That will be our home weekend, and it will line up with the U18 Championship in Dawson Creek, which is pretty neat. I think there will be about 300 players between all the players in our league here.”
Ayres says there’s still time for interested sponsors to lend their name — and some funds — to the U18 and U15 teams.
“Our U15 and U18 teams are looking for team sponsors, and that’s our biggest sponsorship opportunity. Every year, we have fantastic community support, and we end up doing tremendous things for the girls because of those sponsorships. Good folks in the community wanting to support female hockey has always worked out. I’m sure it will again this year, but we are still looking for sponsors.”
When they’re travelling long distances for games, it can get a little pricey.
“We’re travelling, on any given weekend, 1,000 to 1,200 kilometres for a tournament or a Super Weekend, so that gets pretty pricey. It’s awesome to have that support from local businesses and local folks.”
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