While attention of many hockey fans has been focused on the Stanley Cup playoffs, a different kind of hockey is moving towards its own championships in Langley and the Fraser Valley.
The Valley Ball Hockey Association has had a season of growth, and teams are now prepping for the Gold Medal Games on June 16.
Valley Ball Hockey has been operating in Langley and Abbotsford for many years, with players ranging in age from 19 down to just four years old.
“My boys started when they were four years old,” said league president Craig McDougall.
Now they’re 16 and 19 and still playing in the league, he said.
The spring league has a short season, and is slightly less aggressive than traditional ice hockey, McDougall said.
They accept players of any skill level, and are a “fair play” league that is aimed at making sure everyone gets an equal opportunity to play.
“We really try to stress to everyone… that it really is about fun,” McDougall said.
That said, players grow in skill quickly in the league, McDougall said.
And the youngsters look forward to their big championships, which are coming up soon.
There are 16 regular season games, held in the ice arenas in Aldergrove and at the George Preston Recreation Centre, and in Abbotsford.
Then there are four playoff games in June, followed by the Gold Games.
On June 16, the teams will meet at the George Preston Rec Centre arena.
The association’s top teams in every age range, from Tyke to Junior, will take part in a series of games to determine the championship.
There are plenty of teams taking part – there are about 72 teams spread across nine divisions in the Valley area alone.
Play will continue into the late hours of the night until the winners have been crowned.
Their reward is to head off to the Provincial Ball Hockey Tournament, to be held June 28 to July 2.
The Valley teams will face off against squads from Victoria, Metro, Surrey, Ridge Meadows, Tri-Cities, Delta, and Richmond for the title of best in B.C.
The league has been growing. In 2017 there were just over 1,000 players across the various teams and ages, but this year there were 1,130.
Though most of the players are boys, there has been a recent shift in the numbers.
“We had an influx of female players join us,” McDougall said. “We’re a co-ed league.”
This year, 60 girls signed up, including four onto the team McDougall himself coaches.
“All of them are an absolute blast,” he said.
Right now, Valley Ball Hockey organizers are looking forward to next year, when they’ll have a new venue to play in.
“Really looking forward to that new arena in Aldergrove,” McDougall said.