The Central Central Interior Hockey League is opening up its season this weekend without a team from Smithers for the second year in a row.
Hockey has been a part of Canadian culture for quite some time, and has become a sport that was seen only in our country to one of the most popular spectator and participation activities in the world.
In many of our lifetimes we have seen the growth of professional hockey at the highest level from only six teams to the 31 we have now in the NHL. There are many more professional and semi professional leagues in North America and around the world.
In order to feed those teams with top quality players, the call has gone out around the world to other pro and semi pro leagues. In addition, there are the mobs of high end recreational that fill in the blanks for those players who want to do more than just show up a few times a week.
Until last year, Smithers had such a team that usually played a couple games a week — usually on the weekend — besides practices. These players were all working stiffs like the rest of us and expended a tremendous amount of energy beyond what they usually would do at their jobs.
The rest of us hit the slopes, pounded the pavement, pumped the iron and stretched unnaturally at yoga, but that was nothing like what these young men did as they hit the ice for the Steelheads.
Last year, the Steelheads decided that the task was beyond their capabilities. It did not take much inquiry to get quite a few different and understandable reasons why these young men and their coaches just had to say no.
One of the biggest reasons was the fact that many of the players had jobs in which they were not in town all of the time. It is not unusual around here to go out of town for a couple of weeks and then back home for a couple. These jobs tend to pay well and unfortunately don’t encourage belonging to more than recreational hockey teams in which a player’s absence is not critical.
Tom Devries, last coach of the Steelheads, can’t see a change any time soon.
“It’s too hard to work all week and then hit the road for a couple of games every weekend,” he said.
Add that to a practice or two that the player misses because he’s out of town with work, and it becomes very hard on the team’s ability to progress.
Former Steelhead Ryan Greene goes all the way to Kitimat in order to maintain playing hockey at that level.
“I don’t get to the practices but I try to make the games,” he said.
Other former players and coaches play in local recreation leagues to try to satisfy their need for hockey. In addition, it’s easy to see these types out on the ice helping youngsters and others who are trying to improve their skills.
It might not be the game at its highest level, but that level is only reached by a very small number. However, it is sport at its best level: giving your best and helping others try to reach their’s.