by Ron Spence
Senior and minor league hockey have experienced a reversal of fortune over the past eighty years. The B.C. Amateur Hockey Association was formed in 1919 and minor hockey was given a back seat. There were a limited number of covered arenas and it was reasoned that transportation was too slow and expensive for the kids to travel to playoffs. So minor hockey wasn’t encouraged.
Even Junior hockey was supported largley because of the efforts of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. They were farsighted enough to realize that adult amateur and professional hockey needed a foundation of junior prospects. So during the 1925-26 season the CAHA gave the B.C.A.H.A. $200 to promote Junior Hockey.
B.C. had thirteen junior teams five years later, but the CAHA wasn’t happy with B.C.’s minor hockey progress and threatened to cut the Junior grant. So the BCAHA started registering Midget and Juvenile teams that 1932-33 season. There were four Juvenile sides by the 1934-35 season, and the CAHA alotted another $500.
Then minor hockey received a grass roots boost. New Westminster built the Queen’s Park Arena prior to the 1937-38 season and formed a Pee Wee Hockey Association. Two years later the Vancouver Minor Hockey Association was also formed. It became known as the PNE Minor Hockey and Hastings Minor Hockey Association and is today called the Vancouver Hastings Minor Hockey Association.
B.C.’s minor programs were further promoted when trophies were donated. The Cromie Cup was first given to the Midget champions the 1937-38 season. By then there were four Midget teams and nine Juniors but the Juveniles had fallen off to just one team.
Minor hockey grew and the next year there were two additional Junior sides, a second Juvenile squad and seven more Midget teams. The Monarch Life Cup was awarded that season to the Juveniles’ champion.
Following the war the BCAHA started registering Bantam teams but discouraged travel to tournaments (There would be no Bantam playoffs until 1960-61.). The association also discouraged inter-provincial playdowns, reasoning that that playoffs would interfere with the players’ schooling.
Minor hockey received a further boost in February, 1954 when the BCAHA promoted “Minor Hockey Week” (Two years later they presented a resolution to the CAHA to have Minor Hockey Week recognized across Canada and later convinced Imperial Oil to promote Minor Hockey Week on Hockey Night in Canada.). The BCAHA kept the ball rolling when they started handing out Minor Hockey awards in 1958-59.
Pee Wee hockey was finally recognized by the BCAHA in 1955-56 and considered a division two years later. The Pee Wees were allowed district playdowns, but had to wait until 1969-70 for semi-finals, or finals, because the Pee Wees were again considered too young (The older Bantams were allowed to compete for a B.C. championship the 1960-61 season.).
During the 1950s the BCAHA introduced unique legislation. The Trail Minor Hockey Association sponsored a resolution – the 1954-55 season – banning body checking in Minor Hockey. The logic was that players would become better playmakers and stickhandlers if they weren’t concerned with bodychecking. This rule lasted until 1966.
From the late 1950s, until the early 1970s, minor hockey grew in leaps and bounds. By 1960-61 there were 108 Minor hockey teams in the BCAHA and there were 8,000 B.C. minor leaguers playing the next year.
During the 1960s the reversal of fortune was apparent. The BCAHA had an enrollment of 4809 Pee Wees, 2169 Bantams, 1444 Midgets, 621 Juveniles, 294 Juniors, and 224 Intermediates. But there were only 67 Seniors.
Minor hockey was declining by 1980, however. There had been 52,000 players in 1974 but only 36,000 in 1980. Reasons given were: Equipment was getting too expensive; The kids had other interests; Televised games had given hockey a negative image; And there was too much of a focus on the allstars, rather than the rest of the players.
By the late 1980s, however, minor hockey was growing once again. The Pacific Coast Amateur Hockey Association doubled their enrollment from 1989 to 1998. There was even a shortage of ice time for many minor league players.
But this time it wasn’t because the Senior leagues were excluding the minor hockey players. The reversal of fortune had taken place.