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No travel, but games will still be a 'challenge' for Barrie's rep hockey teams

BMHA met last week and outlined the plan for the upcoming season, which president Murray Shanks expects will begin, at the earliest, in early October or November

Normally, as the summer months wind down, Barrie parents right now would be busy helping their kids pack their hockey bags and taking them to rep tryouts.

Unfortunately, with the world still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ontario Hockey Federation ruled there will be no rep tryouts this year, let alone allowing any interleague play.

Simply put, you can only participate in a league within your boundary. No travel and you can only play on one team.

"Even if we had tryouts, the rep teams would not be able to play anybody else," Barrie Minor Hockey Association (BMHA) president Murray Shanks told BarrieToday.

While that's a tough break for any young rep player, the good news is that the BMHA has a plan that will allow them to get back on the ice and continue playing the game they love.

The BMHA is going to take rep kids from every division they have and place them in their own division on teams made up of nine players and one goalie. The teams will play 4-on-4 hockey.

"In the past, if we had four rep teams from 'AA', 'AE', whatever levels they are, well we're going to combine them all into one group," Shanks explained. "We're going to pick balanced teams so you have so many 'AA' players and so many 'A' players on your team. There's going to be nine players on a team, but it's only going to be 4-on-4 and they're only going to play each other.

"They're not going to be playing against house league kids," he added. "All the rep players will be on teams, but they'll only play amongst themselves."

That should make for some competitive hockey for the higher-skilled players.

"It'll still challenge them, because they're playing against their peers," the BMHA president said. "They're probably going to play against their teammates from last year's teams because we got to split those kids up. We've always believed in Barrie minor hockey you should put kids on teams of like skills. That's why we have divisions even within house league."

Stronger skilled players will compete in the White Division, while players learning the game or have less developed skills will go up against one another in the Blue Division.

"So you don't have a weak kid playing on a strong team that never touches the puck," Shanks said. "We've done that a number of years with our house-league program and we'll continue that this year and just add that rep division in. They get to keep on the ice and keep their hockey skills up."

As for ice time, Shanks believes the City of Barrie will have plenty available to accommodate both the rep and house-league levels. While games will be capped at 50 minutes, that should be plenty enough with the shortened benches. Weekly practices will allow kids to continue to develop their skills.

"Currently, some our rep teams have an hour-and-20-minute games, but after 50 minutes if you're playing 4-on-4 you're going to be tired," Shanks said.

The BMHA is taking direction from the OHF and Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) and following the protocols they have set. The minor hockey association met last week and outlined the plan for the upcoming season, which Shanks expects will begin, at the earliest, in early October or November.

"We put everything on pause until we got answers," he said. "We weren't going to guess or mislead our membership. We've been very clear to them."

As for a return to a normal season, Shanks doesn't see that for some time yet.

"We won't see anything happening until at least 2021," he said. "If they do return to normal hockey and have a very short season, it won't happen until 2021."

While registration numbers last year reached nearly 2,000 last year, Shanks isn't certain what they'll be this season.

"Are we going to see a drop in registration? Absolutely," Shanks said. "Is it going to be 20 per cent, 30 per cent? Nobody knows yet."

The BMHA is aiming to do all they can to keep the costs down and make it as affordable as possible for families through these trying times.

"We're going to do everything we can to deliver a hockey program that gets the kids back on the ice and allows the parents to afford it, and gets the kids for a couple of hours a week back out there on the ice with their friends," Shanks said.

What's important is that kids will have an opportunity to have some where to get out with their friends and play hockey and that will be certainly good for their mental wellness after what's been a trying year, he said.

"We're trying to deliver it like we did last year as far as on ice," Shanks said. "It won't be the same, but at least it will be something for the kids to look forward to."