The new executive for the men’s recreational hockey league in Hay River has a new plan for this coming season.
Instead of planning on a whole regular season and seeing interest wane after Christmas, Andre Chabot and Stephane Millette want to try something else.
“We’re looking at doing a pyramid style of play after Christmas,” said Millette. “It worked in Inuvik and we hope it will work here.”
A pyramid system would mean smaller teams – of between six and eight players – playing shorter games, generally no more than 45 minutes. It would work on a challenge basis, in which teams could only challenge other teams on their own level or one higher. Millette said the system would allow for teams that want to play less often to do so and those who want to be on the ice all the time to meet up with like-minded players.
“The pyramid is almost risk-free,” said Chabot. “If there are a lot of teams, we get the ice for longer. If not many show up, we haven’t booked it for the whole night and no one is out of pocket.”
The Hay River Rec League – referred to simply as ‘rec hockey’ – has been plagued by cancelled games and frustrated players for years.
Chabot said it seems to be that every year there is always a lot of interest at the beginning of the season, but that, for one reason or another, players start to drop out after the holidays.
The advent of the Northern Hockey Challenge (NHC) last year also had an impact on how many players would show up for league games, but Chabot doesn’t want to see the NHC disappear.
“It’s a great thing for Hay River, but maybe if the games were a bit more spread out through the year it would be good. We’re organizing for between now and December,” he said. “If we have enough guys interested in playing a regular season after that then great, but we do have this alternative.”
The league has also dropped the registration fees from over $400 for the whole season to $200 to cover until Christmas. Chabot said the feeling of having overpaid only added to players’ frustrations when games were cancelled in previous years.
“It was becoming really tough,” said former player Patrick Poisson. “Starting in January, you would never know if there was going to be a game or not, or if you would have enough guys, especially goalies. For the amount I was paying, it was just too frustrating, so I quit.”
Poisson joked that, since he has reached the ripe old age of 35, he now qualifies for the old timers’ league.
However, Millette said the rec hockey executive is looking at including the old timers’ and women’s leagues in the pyramid system, as well.
“It really helped boost numbers in Inuvik,” he said. “We’re not the only community and league facing these challenges.”
In fact, Millette said some players from Fort Smith have expressed interest in potentially being a part of the second half of the season. He said it would take some working out of how the points would work, but, essentially, the games played against teams from out of town could count for more towards the league championship.
“They have some of the same problems we do,” said Millette of Fort Smith, adding teams from Fort Providence and other surrounding communities would also be welcome.
The annual draft, in which team captains pick players at a registration night at the Doghouse sports bar, will be held Sept. 27.
Chabot and Millette hope the reduced rates and new plan for the second half of the season will attract some of the guys who have lost interest over the last few years, as well as some new ones.
“It’s tough for the new guys,” said Millette. “They’re the ones who get discouraged and drop out first when games started being called off.”
Both Chabot and Millette grew up playing hockey and agreed taking the reins of the league was a natural progression.
“We do other stuff,” said Millette. “But we do a lot of hockey and talk a lot of hockey. We figured we might as well organize, too.”
Chabot hopes the proposed new system will help get more people on the ice this season, but with less scheduling complications than there have been in other years.
“If rec league doesn’t happen, you’re stuck organizing pick-up for the rest of the year,” he said. “And that’s just not as good.”
— Sarah Ladik