Although both the NEBC Trackers and Predators hockey teams are in the midst of their best seasons in team history, they are in the unique situation of having little to play for and no championships to win.
Last season, the Trackers were one of the best teams in the NAHL, winning the Bouchier division in the regular season with ease. They travelled to Fort McMurray for the division playoffs, where they won that as well. However, because Hockey Alberta uses the NAHL playoffs to determine which teams will make the Alberta Hockey Midget AA Provincials, the Trackers were unable to compete for the league title.
This season, the Trackers are even better, their 10-1 record the best in the 23-team league. Yet, before the season started, the league executive decided they didn’t want the Trackers to play in the divisional playoffs either.
If you think that’s unfair, you’re not alone.
“Basically, the league standings don’t mean anything, other than it’s a structure for the kids who could move on in hockey. But don’t get me wrong, our guys know our record, and I tell them the teams in our division don’t want them at playoffs, and the guys take the frustration out on the rink, which I love,” said a frustrated Gerard Dicaire, head coach of the Trackers.
Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that the league also gave the Trackers fewer home games this year, with 12 instead of the 16 they played in Fort St. John and Dawson Creek last season.
“It baffles us, because being on a bus for a couple days is so big for team building, but the Alberta teams don’t want to travel here for a couple games,” Dicaire said.
The Predators face a similar issue. The bantam and midget teams became a full-time program this year, which means weekly practices and games every weekend, or as much as possible. The problem is, there are no leagues this far North that the Predators can join, leaving the girls unable to play as often as they would like.
“There’s a AA Hockey Alberta league that Grande Prairie plays in, and though we’ve applied to join the last two years, we’ve been told the league isn’t accepting new teams,” said Rob Larson, coach of the midget Predators. Larson thinks this is mostly because of the travel involved, but it’s still disappointing.
For now, both the Predators and Trackers teams only have B.C. provincials to look forward to. The Trackers have a full season’s worth of games to practice and prepare for, but they don’t get to play against the same competition that they’ll take on at provincials.
It’s easy to say that this is the way things are in the North, but while a solution to the problem hasn’t presented itself, both teams are seeking one and working toward that goal.
After all, the kids up here can play and compete with the best of them, and deserve the chance to achieve the same things too.
Email sports reporter Dillon Giancola at firstname.lastname@example.org.