There are many different things that can be done and that are being done to grow the game of female hockey around the world. This includes the development of competitive leagues for female players to play in once they reach the Senior level and showing younger players that there will be opportunities for them to play hockey in the future that are attainable.
The South Coast Female Amateur Hockey League (SCFAHL) is a Senior level women’s league in British Columbia (BC), Canada that strives to do just that, to provide high-level, competitive hockey for female players while also developing a positive relationship between the minor and senior levels that brings many benefits to the female game.
The league mainly operates within BC’s Lower Mainland (a region that stretches from Vancouver to Hope) as well as in other areas of BC such as Vancouver Island and the Okanagan. This season the league has nine teams which compete in the Senior A and Senior AA divisions.
Players in the league come from a variety of backgrounds, often having played NCAA, CIS, or Midget AAA hockey in the past. For the majority of these players, the SCFAHL allows them to play a high level of hockey while also being able to manage a full-time job and other commitments. This is one aspect of the league that many players appreciate the most.
“I still obviously love to play and want to play at a decent level,” said Haleigh Callison, who has played for UBC, in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, and professionally in Germany. She currently plays for the SCFAHL’s South Fraser TNT. “Vancouver is one of the best places in the world to live so [for] people who finish school and want to come back or they want to be in Vancouver, it gives them that option to still keep playing while continuing their career and their life.”
Although now the SCFAHL consists solely of Senior level teams, at one point it played a large role in the development and management of female minor hockey associations in the Lower Mainland. Debuting in 1983, the SCFAHL consisted of senior, intermediate, and junior teams. At this time, there was only one category for female hockey in BC, which included players of all ages. This category was simply called ‘Female.’ However, this all began to change throughout the 1980s and up until the late 1990s. In the 1980s, a group of people from the SCFAHL began to form female associations in the Lower Mainland specifically for minor hockey, most of which still exist today.
“We ran female hockey until BC Hockey changed the way the game would be structured,” SCFAHL President Rick Kupchuk said.
In 1998, BC Hockey divided the one category of ‘Female,’ separating minor hockey from senior hockey. The Pacific Coast Amateur Hockey Association (PCAHA) took over the management of the female minor hockey associations, allowing the SCFAHL to focus on developing a competitive Senior women’s league for the Lower Mainland and beyond.
While they no longer have jurisdiction over female minor hockey in the Lower Mainland, staying connected to minor hockey is still important for the SCFAHL. The SCFAHL is a league young players can aspire to play in after graduating from high school or university, a place for them to continue to play competitive hockey in their future while also maintaining other commitments. As Kupchuk pointed out “If you look on the boys side, if you can’t play pro, where do you play? Seriously, you would play recreation hockey somewhere. So on the girls side we want to avoid that.”
To promote their league and the female Senior division to younger players, the SCFAHL has held several events, such as its inaugural all-star game held in March of 2015. The game was held on the same weekend and at the same rink as the Richmond Ravens Ice Classic, a popular annual female minor hockey tournament that brings together teams from throughout the Lower Mainland and from as far away as San Jose, California.
“It was a chance to get some of the better players together and just have a social game,” Kupchuk said of the SCFAHL all-star game, “and it turned out to be a lot more competitive than I thought it would be.”
Minor hockey players, their coaches, and their parents had a chance to witness the best of the best of the SCFAHL and get more information about it.
“I though it was great,” Callison, who played in the all-star game, said. “It was awesome to just showcase that there is a higher level here in BC and yeah, it was a lot of fun.”
The SCFAHL also participates in the IIHF World Girls Ice Hockey Weekend. Every October, each of their teams play at least one regular season game at the Surrey Sport and Leisure Centre over the course of a selected weekend. Midget AAA teams are also brought out to play their own games at the rink and watch the SCFAHL in action.
“We promote our teams to them,” Kupchuk said of the weekend’s events. “It’s a chance for all the minor people to show up too and have a look, and know there’s an option, that Midget AAA is one and Senior is another. That and the annual all-star game have been very very good in getting the word out to minor hockey.”
As the SCFAHL continues to grow, the league is also looking towards sponsorship as a necessary component to their development. Players still pay to play in the regular season, to play in the all-star game and to go the provincial tournament. They pay to travel throughout BC for away games, and they pay for all their gear. Sponsorship however, can help to cover some of these costs.
“I think there’s opportunities for small level sponsorship,” said Callison. “I think in the Lower Mainland if there was opportunities for companies and organizations to easily help sponsor a team or help to offset the cost for the players, I think you’re going to keep the players around longer.”
Callison also believes that sponsorship opens up opportunities for the players to get more involved in the Lower Mainland sports community.
“Like anything else, it’s always good for young females to have elite female athletes to look up to at any level, and I think that that is something that can be utilized more by the players in our league.”
Of course, having determined and dedicated individuals in leadership positions helps the league develop as well.
“We’ve got a really good group of people that run the teams in our league,” said Kupchuk. “They’re very proud of the league, the players are proud of it, the teams are proud of it, and they do what they can to get the word out. As long as that continues we will continue to grow.”
Developing an even stronger relationship between themselves and the female minor levels can only help the senior and minor levels grow more, in terms of both numbers and skill level. While there is still more to be done, the SCFAHL has evolved into a high-level and competitive Senior women’s league that provides players with great opportunities to continue to play past minor hockey. Competitive women’s hockey has a great future ahead of itself in British Columbia – and this is younger players should take note of.
For more information on the SCFAHL, please visit their website: http://www.southcoastfemalehockey.com
Photo credit: Phil Mony/SCFAHL