BONNYVILLE – In many ways, this year’s hockey season has been a huge improvement compared to the disruptions faced in the 2020/21 season, but it has not been without its challenges for its players, minor hockey organizations and parents.
“Just the fact that kids have been able to participate in hockey since the start of the season, it’s been good,” says Terry Rupp, president of the Bonnyville Minor Hockey Association (BMHA).
Compared to disruptions experienced last year, he says the only restrictions teams have faced this year are masking rules for entering arenas and adhering to either one-third capacity rules or the Restrictions Exemption Program (REP), depending on the hosting facility.
The previous season had started normally but was shut down part way through due to rising COVID cases and hospitalizations in the province. When the season returned, teams were limited “to stay in their cohorts, practices and didn’t get much gameplay in the other communities,” Rupp explains.
“This year, it's been back to the barn. There are league games, the girls and the AA teams have been able to travel extensively throughout the province and even in a neighbouring province to play some tournaments and games,” he says. It’s been a welcome change.
Rupp says that what the board continues to push for is a 100 per cent participation by every team in minor hockey, “whether it's a Jaguars program, Bonnyville Minor Hockey or Lakeland Panthers. That's what we set out to do is make it so every kid in our area has the opportunity to participate in the sport,” despite changing health measures.
“We just want to make sure it stays so that they all can continue (playing),” he adds.
The organization as a whole, including the board, sees the importance of making sure youth can get out and get on the ice.
Playing hockey gives kids a chance to forget about everyday life and the challenges they have faced over the last couple of years, says Rupp.
“First and foremost, (hockey improves) the mental health of the kids. It gets you out and about, socializing with your parents, with your friends, with coaches. And then obviously, the physical part of it, staying active and not getting clammed up at home where you're playing video games or on the computer.”
Another bonus of encouraging youth sport and hockey are the benefits to the community that can be seen down the road.
“(The organization) makes sure we have great coaches in place leading the right kids. You see the positivity not only in the sport down the road, but just in life and building life skills,” he says. “That's our intent for the sport and for whatever they do in life later on. They will be leaders and they will be strong, and they will know how to treat each other.”
Bonnyville’s minor hockey program starts with U5, “which we call our tykes and that’s fun for three and four-year-old's to be able to throw on a little bit of equipment and go skate with the moms or dads. Nothing really structured, just a little bit of fun and games.”
The league also offers teams for U7, U9, U11, U13, U15, U18 and partners with the Lakeland Panthers AA Tier 1 team.
Rupp points out that these teams are only possible because of the dedication from parents of the 320 plus players. They volunteer their time coaching, scorekeeping, helping with raffles and fulfilling the many other roles required to keep the league running smoothly.
“I would just like to thank... everybody that makes hockey what it is in Bonnyville, and it really shows how committed we are in our area by the attendance of some of the tournaments we've hosted.”
Rupp has spent 10 years on the BMHA’s board and is entering his second year as the association’s acting president.