Trying to get ahead of a mandate coming from Hockey Canada, Hockey Alberta is transitioning its novice game to half-sheets starting this season.
“For smaller players, ultimately they’re playing on a smaller surface. And that makes a ton of sense,” explained Rob Litwinski, Hockey Alberta’s CEO.
Hockey Canada has decided that as of the 2019-2020 season, all novice players across the country will be using half-size rinks.
“We wanted to make this year a pilot year and obviously make any changes that we think are needed before ’19-’20, which is the mandate.”
At the Summer Ice Jamboree, connected to the Gretzky Helinka Cup, young seven- and eight-year-old hockey players had an opportunity to try out the new format — some for the very first time.
“It is a quicker game and it is easier to follow the players,” said mother Jennifer Hay.
Watching her brother play on the smaller surface, Rowan Hay noticed something else.
“I found that they kind of bump into each other when they’re coming off. I think the bigger ice could help with that.”
In the new game, novice teams share a bench and players all shift off at the same time, announced at regular intervals by a buzzer.
There’s no icing, faceoffs or power-plays. The aim is to help with player development at a young age.
“They need the skating and the stick-handling and the shooting kinds of skills. The systems and the tactics and the rules of the game can be introduced later on,” said Dean Hengel, Hockey Edmonton’s executive director.
This winter nearly 800 novice players in Edmonton will start using the half-rink system. The other 800 novice players will continue to play on full rinks, as they’ve already started doing so in previous years.
Hengel said the smaller rinks help distribute the puck better.
“Kids are engaged, they’re having fun, they’re excited. They’re all competing, not just one or two of them.”
Canada is following the lead of other countries in making the change.
“We certainly know that USA hockey has this program in place and we know that many European nations are doing it as well,” Litwinski said.
But that doesn’t mean Hockey Alberta and Hockey Edmonton aren’t hearing concerns. The sport is so loved by Canadians, some are opposed to the change.
“What about offsides and what about some of those other rules? What about changing on the fly? Those are things we’re going to have to educate our way through,” Litwinski explained.
He said the organization will make sure players are ready for that transition to the atom level.
“It’s going to be a bit of an adjustment for some parents and some grandparents as well — but we truly believe it’s the right thing for the game.”