After years of tough road trips to places as far afield as Jasper and Athabasca, the Westlock & District Minor Hockey League has joined a league with a far more favourable travel schedule.
Departing the Sturgeon Pembina Hockey League for the 1660 Hockey League means Westlock’s hockey teams will be travelling no farther than 100 kilometres from Edmonton, said association president Dean Fagnan.
“I think a lot of people struggled with the SPHL because of the amount of travel,” he said.
Another benefit of joining the 1660 league is the number of teams and the quality of competition, Fagnan said. With more than 300 teams playing in the league, there are many more tiers in each division from novice up to midget.
The only downside to having so many tiers is it has taken a while for Westlock’s teams to be slotted into the proper tier, he said.
“I think that’s the growing pains of this league changing and doing things for the first time,” Fagnan said.
Seeing as there are as many as seven tiers in a single division, there is some guesswork involved in finding the correct tier for a team’s skill level.
“As an association, we would put a team in Tier 2 and they would play a few games there. If things look good, they’ll stay there,” he said. “If, let’s say, they beat everybody by 10 goals, they would move up to Tier 1. If they lose every game by 10, they would move down to Tier 3.”
Overall, Fagnan said he thinks the parents are happy with the travel involved with the choice of a new league. In addition, he said most of the WDMHA’s teams have thus far been playing close and competitive games.
At the end of the season, the association will ask parents for their thoughts on the league and where to play next year. This leaves open the possibility of one or more teams returning to the SPHL, he said.
“The opportunity is there, if a team really wants to go in the SPHL, and it’s unanimous in the way of the parents, then that’s something they can probably do,” Fagnan said.
For now, the WDMHA teams will continue their seasons in the new year, with playoffs slated to begin in February.
“January and February, until the end of the year, is a lot of hockey, but it’s neat for teams that are making a run at provincials and playoffs and that sort of thing,” Fagnan said.