Chilliwack Minor Hockey has a lot to talk about these days, what with revamped player and coaching development programs starting to yield dividends on the ice.
Tops on the good news list is the continued strong performance of the girls program, which has reached a point of sustained consistent competitiveness. Under the Warriors banner, CMHA has become one of the flagships for female hockey in the Lower Mainland, going a long way in a relatively short time.
This year’s big story in the female ranks was the peewee team, and their move from house to rep.
“This is the first year one of our female teams has made that jump,” said peewee coach Brad Read. “We did that with four players who are still atom age, four first-year and five second-year peewees. Most of the teams that the girls played are all, for the most part, second year peewees.”
The girls trounced the competition at the tier-one atom level last year, winning the Pacific Coast Hockey Association league championship. Roughly half the team did some form of elite training over the summer, and the girls came into fall training camp ready to roll.
Coming into the 2010-11 season, CMHA had enough girls to form three teams; atom, peewee 2 and peewee A.
“The peewee A team started in a tier two division and won every game by a lot,” Read said. “The league came out to four of the games and recommended we move to rep.”
The suggestion was offered to the girls, who discussed the pros and cons behind closed doors for an hour. Read warned them the move to rep would result in a lot more losses. Their opponents would be bigger, stronger and more aggressive.
“In the end they decided they wanted to make the move, even if it meant losing every game,” Read said. “From the start they haven’t been intimidated at all. They’ve proven their ability to handle everything that’s been thrown at them and the evolution has been impressive.”
At the lower level, the girls were able to get by with more individualistic play, with skaters dangling through the opposition single-handedly. The first lesson they learned at the rep level was that team play was parmount.
“Against weaker teams they knew they could carry the puck longer, make some moves and maybe not work as hard,” Read offered. “At the rep level, they’ve had to learn to play within the team system — passing, thinking and reacting quickly and really working hard. They’re known throughout the rep division as the hardest working team.”
Results wise, Chilliwack ended up as a middle-of-the-pack team. Fears of losing every game proved unfounded.
The girls were the first team to tie the league’s top team, the North Shore Avalanche, a squad who’d beaten everyone before running into Chilliwack.
And with team success has come individual notice.
Even at the youngest levels of rep hockey, the eyes of scouts are watching.
Vancouver-based Team Pacific is regarded as one of the best programs in Western Canada, providing high-level training under the guidance of Jeff Eaton. Goalie Kate Stuart and Tamina Kehler have the opportunity to join that program.
The Cyclone Taylor Junior Eagles are coached by Mark Taylor, a former Hobey Baker award winner who went on to NHL stints with Philadelphia and Washington. Defencemen Taylor Besset and Michaela Read have received invites to play for the Eagles.
In the four years Read has worked with this group (since 2006-07), he has seen remarkable improvment. Many of these girls couldn’t even skate when they first signed up.
“Two of those girls are from that original team and neither of them could stand up on their skates,” he noted. “To see them now playing at a AAA level with an elite team is fantastic. And there’s only one player from that original group that isn’t still playing. It’s pretty unreal to see them getting from there to here.”
Now, it seems the Warriors are here to stay.
“As far as being locked into rep, we’ll go year by year based on whether we have the numbers and the PCHA thinks we can compete,” Read said. “It’s our goal to have a rep team year after year, and we hope we get the commitment from the parents and players to make that happen.”
— CMHA is looking for female players of all ages and skills, but there is a specific call for skaters between the ages of 5-10.
CMHA is hosting Hockey Day in Chilliwack April 2 at Twin Rinks.
The females will participate for the first time, playing a full jamboree-style game with the bantam and midget-aged players.
Afterwards, awards will be handed out to players at every level of the female program — most valuable, most improved and most sportsmanlike player awards going to players on all five teams.
Get more info from the CMHA website at http://cmha.goalline.ca/index.php. An e-mail can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact CMHA by phone at 604-858-6031.