The highest caliber hockey in B.C. will be coming to Hope this spring and it’s bound to provide a boost both to local women’s hockey and the tourism industry.
Hope will host the South Coast Women’s Hockey League (SCWHL) championship from March 29 to 31. It’s going to be ‘the best hockey Hope has ever seen’, said Hope Minor Hockey’s referee-in-chief Paul Fredrickson.
The AA league is competitive: it is the highest level of women’s hockey in B.C. and draws the highest caliber athletes to its teams. League players have played at the NCAA, U Sports, Midget AAA, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, national teams in Britain and the Philippines, as well as pro teams in Kazakhstan and Turkey.
“The games are very close. You’re not going to see 10-0 or 9-0 games, they’re all going to be close. Probably a couple are going to go to overtime,” said Rick Kupchuk, president of the league.
The competition is fierce, Kupchuk calls it ‘intense’, and for players it is a ‘huge deal’ to win. While he has a pretty good idea of the top teams that will be in Hope, there is plenty of time for an upset as league play continues until two weeks before the championship.
Just last week the defending champions, the Fraser Valley Jets, were upset by the North Shore Rebels, who are at sixth place in the league. The game ended 2-1 for the Rebels. “On any given day, anybody can beat anybody,” Kupchuk said.
The league has nine teams, six of which are based in the Lower Mainland and one each in Kamloops, Prince George and Victoria.
Amanda Christie, captain with the Fraser Valley Jets, will most likely feel right at home if her team makes it to the championship. They won it last year and are currently in second place in the league, behind Kamloops Vibe.
Born in Chilliwack and now living in Agassiz, Christie said she’s been playing the sport since she learned to skate and knows Hope’s ice very well.
“I grew up playing boys’ hockey here in Chilliwack, then continued on to play in girls out of Abbotsford and Maple Ridge. I played for a major midget team for the Fraser Valley and now I’m in the South Coast Women’s League,” she said.
Christie has skated on Hope Arena ice as a child, during her time playing minor hockey with boys teams in Chilliwack.
“I always remember going to that rink and in the back, there was a skateboard park where we warmed up. There was a big dip in it and if it was snowing or slippery you couldn’t get out of it,” she remembered.
Christie has also earned local hockey fame as a two-time winner of the annual St. Patrick’s weekend hockey tournament, first with BFP (which stands for backcheck, forecheck, paycheck, a homage to the show Letterkenny) and last year with the Jets.
“This is kind of why we want to come back. We want to bring awareness to this arena and the community and so far the community has been great with coming together for this,” she said, adding sponsorship and support has already come through from locals months ahead of the tournament. “It’s crazy, normally we’re penny-pinching to pay for the ice time. This year it’s great to see a small community want to help.”
Since joining the SCWHL in 2009, she has seen it grow from two teams to nine. Her time with the Fraser Valley Jets has been ‘a rocky road’: from a strong team when she started, the team experienced some coaching changes and lost many of their players resulting in less-than-stellar results.
Things are on the upswing now though. In what Christie called the Jets’ ‘rebuild year’, the team won the league championship.
“Last year was, I would say, almost a record-breaking year for us. We only lost twice in the whole entire season, that’s 26 regular season games plus the six games at provincials,” she said. This year, the team has a few more losses than they would like, “but we still have another strong chance at the championship this year,” Christie said.
Christie, who plays forward, is a top scorer for her team and for the league this year with 10 goals and 7 assists in the 14 games she’s been on the ice.
“I’m looking forward to just another weekend of competitive hockey,” she said, adding the league now has many competitive teams which could take the title and high-quality play is a given.
The top six teams will play the three-day tournament, with four games Friday, four Saturday and two games Sunday. The championship match is set for 12:15 p.m. Sunday, March 31.
For Hope’s young female hockey players, hosting the tournament in Hope gives them an idea of what their future in hockey could hold. Christie didn’t want to go the college route, so the SCWHL was a way to keep playing competitive hockey with coaches past the minor years.
Kupchuk said details are still being worked out, but the league is planning to get female minor players involved in the tournament.
The benefits will go beyond hockey lovers and young players, to the accommodation and service industry in Hope. All of the teams are staying in town, with each bringing an estimated 40 people.
The best news may be that the tournament will have free entry all weekend to the arena which seats over 500 people, allowing anyone who loves hockey to experience it up close and personal.
For those looking to get a taste of the SCWHL action ahead of the championship weekend, an all-star game is planned for Feb. 2. The location of the game is still to be determined.
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