KMHA representatives say shortage of ice sheets are causing talented youth to leave Kamloops

Minor hockey on thin ice

Kamloops Minor Hockey Association representatives say a shortage of ice sheets in the Tournament Capital is resulting in less time for young players to hone their skills — and people are moving away from the city as a result.

Nathan Bosa, KMHA president, said the association wants to be able to provide ample ice time for its 1,200 youth, whether they are hoping to develop their skills through the rec (recreation) stream or the more competitive rep (representative) stream.

“We want to develop players so they can go where they choose, but we also want to have a good place for kids to play rec hockey the whole way through if that's what they choose,” Bosa said.

“You can’t do either right now. It’s frustrating as a board. It’s frustrating for the staff, I know that. It’s frustrating to know you’re two sheets of ice — at minimum — behind.”

The City of Kamloops has identified a need for more indoor ice. There are currently six sheets available in five arenas — Brocklehurst Arena, McArthur Island, Memorial Arena, Sandman Centre and Valleyview Arena.

According to the city’s 2019 Recreation Master Plan, the overall use of available indoor ice capacity exceeded 90 per cent from September until March. Prime time use of available capacity exceeded 120 per cent.

“A review of indoor ice arena utilization data supports that capacity challenges exist during the primary ice season,” the document said.

Recommendations in the plan included increasing the number of ice arena surfaces by at least one to two sheets in a three to seven year time frame, and adding another one to two sheets total in a seven to 17 year time frame.

Ice sheets have been identified as a priority in council’s Build Kamloops program, an ambitious plan to make headway on the recommendations in the Recreation Master Plan.

KMHA representatives said to their knowledge, ice sheet shortages have been discussed for more than a decade.

Not enough time for practices

Zac Carnelley, KMHA executive director, said 15 to 17 year olds playing in the U18 recreation division have an hour and 45 minutes of ice time per week, time which is solely dedicated to games as there isn’t enough ice for them to practice.

“What we're doing now to create practices for U18 is we're going to take away ice from other ages. Is that the answer? It’s a struggle,” he said.

Carnelley added U18 games end between 10:15 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. on weeknights due to the tight scheduling, noting adults will often get on to the ice sooner than kids in some cases.

“How many hours of sleep is a 15 year old supposed to have versus a 45 year old? It's just common sense that the kids need sleep, they’ve got to get up for school,” he said, adding this timing sometimes isn’t feasible for families either.

Bosa said young athletes will leave for academies in Kelowna or Penticton in order to get the training they need. While that is on the elite side, he noted “for the first time in a long time” KMHA has key people in place to offer more development training and camps for all levels of players, but space is an issue.

Darryl Sydor, a former NHL player and coach of player development with KMHA, said he ran a couple of skill development camps over Christmas which were sold out in 24 hours.

“I tried to get more ice, I cannot get ice. Personally, I cannot get ice. If I wanted to make that a business, I could not run it, because there's no ice. And kids go, within 24 hours we were sold out all ages,” Sydor said. “And kids would now go to wherever to do it.”

Sydor estimated KMHA lost about 10 players last year, and there are two more planning to leave the city in 2024 in order to better develop their skills.

Carnelley said a few years ago, a hockey dad took it upon himself to book ice in places like Logan Lake and Chase to provide development time for a group of particularly strong players, noting it was a “good idea on their part.”

“They were a good group. Kamloops Minor Hockey could not give them the ice that they needed, they couldn’t. So what did they do? …Five of them went down to Yale Hockey Academy [in Abbotsford] because they could provide what Kamloops couldn’t,” he said.

“Thirteen and 14, that’s when kids are leaving, because we can’t provide what they need. And I get it, you can only do so much with elite, but we got to be able to provide something without taking away from the recreation.”

Bosa said new kids are coming to KMHA each year, noting they are anticipating an influx of female players with the new professional woman’s league — “but where do they go?”

Ice sheet shortages a regional issue?

Bosa said ice shortages aren’t just a Kamloops issue — it’s difficult finding ice for all Okanagan Mainline Amateur Hockey Association (OMAHA) communities.

"You have 20 associations that are in OMAHA, and every single one of them [is] hurting for ice,” Bosa said.

Carnelley said there’s work underway to get a regional female hockey league off the ground, but “the answer is no, because they don’t have the ice to do it.”

The KMHA representatives acknowledged Build Kamloops is now underway, with the city looking to make headway on these large capital builds, but noted it will likely take years to see these facilities up and running.

Carnelley said even a mini rink — a smaller sheet of ice — could host younger age groups, taking pressure off of the larger ice surfaces for all users. The idea was floated by Sydor at a council meeting before the elected officials voted to move ahead with plans to construct a $5.4 million outdoor public skating rink in Riverside Park.

“They know we need [ice sheets], but they’ve got this big idea in their mind — let’s have something as a band-aid until we get there,” he said.

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