Rick Duchesne (centre)

Rick Duchesne (centre)

Hockey league hits the floor running

Spring sport - that plays with a ball, not a puck – to begin at Centennial Arena

‘Game on!”

For generations, those two words have been spoken – shouted, more likely – by millions of hockey-playing youngsters across the country. And they are usually followed by the return of hockey nets to the streets after having been shuffled out of the way for a passing car.

Those words have also served as inspiration for Rick Duchesne, who for the past few months has been working to get a new ball hockey league off the ground in White Rock.

And next week, the newly formed organization, Semiahmoo Minor Ball Hockey, hits the floor at Centennial Arena, with 100 players and counting already registered.

“I just have a passion for ball hockey. I’ve coached it for many years, played it for many years, too – from novice all the way up to junior,” said Duchesne, who grew up in Stoney Creek, Ont. before moving to British Columbia.

“Ice hockey was always my main sport growing up, and ball hockey was something we did for fun out on the street in front of the house – you know, the “Game on! Game off!” stuff, where you’d be moving nets every few minutes for cars to go by.

“But it became a real religious thing – we would be out there every single night.”

He’s hoping the same passion for the sport that he once found in Ontario will also be unearthed here on the Peninsula.

“Ontario is ball hockey country, ice hockey country – just hockey country in general, and I know that B.C. isn’t far behind,” he said.

Ball hockey leagues are popular in other Lower Mainland cities – including North Surrey, Langley and Delta – with some boasting participation numbers of between 650 and 1,100, Duchesne said.

“It’s the second fastest-growing sport here, aside from soccer,” he said, adding that he plans to coach his 12-year-old son Richard’s peewee ball hockey team in the new league.

The popularity of the sport, Duchesne figures, stems from the fact that it appeals to a wide variety of people – from serious ice hockey players looking to stay sharp in the off-season, to youngsters whose families can’t afford the increasingly high cost of ice hockey, and to the road warriors who have never played organized sports, but have logged plenty of time playing neighbourhood hockey games.

The new league charges $165 per player, regardless of age.

“That’s the cost, right across the board,” said Duchesne, who will run the league alongside another volunteer, Gagan Dhillon, who will serve as vice-president.

“It’s a fraction of the cost of ice hockey. And players that already play ice hockey in winter leagues, this gives them the option of doing this in the spring, if they can’t afford to or don’t want to, play rep spring-league hockey.”

Duchesne is also quick to point out that many ball-hockey skills differ slightly from those of ice hockey, whether it’s the way the ball – or puck, in the case of ice hockey – is handled and shot, to the way players move during the game.

But both skill-sets can be useful in tandem, he said, pointing to current Vancouver Canuck Alex Burrows – a noted ball-hockey player in his native Quebec during the off-season – as an example of the two sports coming together.

“The motion it takes to make a shot in ball hockey is noticeably different from ice, and when you see Alex Burrows out there playing for the Canucks, he has some moves with the puck that some people have never seen before – sometimes that goalies haven’t seen before – because it’s all ball-hockey oriented,” Duchesne said.

“It’s like a good marriage – each one complements the other.”

The season begins April 8 and runs for two months, with games played on weekends. Practices are to be determined by individual coaches, and will take place at either Centennial Arena or outside at Centennial Park’s Taylor Lacrosse Box.

Players do not need full hockey gear to play, only a stick, a CSA-approved helmet, elbow pads, hockey gloves, cup, ball-hockey shin and knee pads, and comfortable non-slip running shoes.

Registration will remain open for the entire season, Duchesne said, adding that coaches and other volunteers are also still needed.

“We’re a new league and don’t want to be turning anyone away – the more the merrier. There’s no such thing as a late registration, and we just encourage everybody to come out and take a look at what we have to offer,” he said.

“If you’ve ever played on the street – with clear pavement in front of you, a ball, a stick and a net – this might be for you.

“There’s just no breaks (for cars) this time, and it’s organized.”

The league is open to players from eight to 18 years old. For more information on the league, or to sign up, email semiahmooballhockey@hotmail.com or call 6-4-729-9130.