September 23, 2014
After a three year absence, Dan Melanson is back in familiar territory, heading up the Burnaby Winter Club’s minor hockey organization as President.
Melanson’s history with the BWC minor hockey factory goes back to the early 1990s, shortly after he first arrived in BC from Montreal and met up with current BWC General Manager Len McNeely through Sunday night senior mens hockey.
The association with McNeely, who was a key member of a core group of members who organized and financed the building of the BWC full sized rink, eventually lead to membership in 1991 as Melanson’s daughter joined as a figure skater and his son as a hockey player three years later.
That soon lead to three years of coaching tyke and novice teams and then into management roles in BWC’s storied, and sometimes tumultuous history as a high level hockey development factory.
From 1994 to 2007 Melanson either managed, was vice-president, tyke-novice tournament director, or sat on the board. He was vice president from 1997 to 2001, then president from 2001 to 2007. Then he coached BWC’s second ever Juvenile Team in 2009 and led them to a berth in the Provincial Championships in 2011, and was the Host Chair for the Western Canadian Bantam Championships in April 2010. For the past three years, Melanson has also managed the Bantam A1 team, a team that has consistently been a provincial and Western Canada championship contender.
Today the BWC remains one of two private clubs offering PCAHA minor hockey programs in the Lower Mainland. Along with the North Shore Winter Club in North Vancouver, BWC offers an alternative for families with an interest in providing their young hockey players with a high intensity hockey program that many minor hockey associations are not able to offer.
“We offer smaller benches, better ice times, and a tradition of hockey excellence. There’s a myth out there that we are constantly recruiting players for our programs.” says Melanson. “The truth is that we’re pretty much fully subscribed by the time players reach Atom age, when they have to be carded with PCAHA.”
Players in the Lower Mainland are permitted to card (register) with the private clubs without a residency requirement provided they do it in first year Atom (at nine years of age). After Atom, a player joining one of the Winter Clubs has to reside, with his family, in its Minor Hockey Association (MHA) catchment area.
“We traditionally operate five Atom teams, four Peewee teams, three Bantam teams and two midget teams, plus our Tyke and Rascal programs, which feed the Atom programs,” Melanson explained.
As the players move up the ranks, and there are fewer teams available, a natural selection process takes place, limiting the number of new openings available in any given year. Each year an an average of twelve or thirteen families leave the club.
“We have 130 in initiation hockey, two Hockey 2 teams, two Hockey 3 teams and three Hockey 4 teams, so as we transition from 5 to 8 year olds, we transition 36 out of Hockey 4 into Atom, a division that holds 75 and presumably there are already 34 there, so there are not many spots available. The reality is we try to convert them to members by Hockey 3.
There are hiccups some years, Melanson admits.
“In bantam we have 44 kids but out of that we only have 15 D, so not only do we need three more guys for our A1 team, they’ve all got to be D-men. So it’s complicated, but that’s hockey. Those are some of the challenges you have to deal with.”
Melanson admits that midget has been somewhat of an Achilles heel at the club, and that has forced the club to do a lot of work to find a solution for 15 year olds. Two years ago the club launched the Burnaby Hockey Academy, in cooperation with Burnaby Central High School, to help address the situation.
But having a good midget program outside of the Academies is still a priority, Melanson says.
“There are those that say Bantam A1 is the flagship, and sort of an end point for our program. A lot of players graduating from Bantam A1 would return to their home assocations and if they weren’t triple A clubs, get lost in A or AA hockey after maybe eight or nine years of triple A at Burnaby Winter Club.”
“And we failed them when the best we could offer is midget Tier 3, and even that was a team made up of mostly 16 and 17 year olds.
“Now we have final releases from major midget at the end of September, and from junior B for 16 and 17 year olds, and then we have kids that still want to play midget AAA but are going to St. George’s, St. Michael’s, St. Thomas More, Notre Dame, Vancouver College or any international Baccalaureate programs.
“Our mandate is to deliver AAA high level hockey development for 15-16-17 year olds and we’ve filled some holes but there are still a lot of gray areas. I think we’ve solved the Midget arena and we’re going to get better, with a second varsity team.”
In addition to the new Academy teams, club also provides home ice to the Major Midget North West Giants and also to the Junior B Grandview Steelers.
The Steelers offer a great option for players to play junior hockey without having to leave home.
As for hosting the NW Giants, Melanson notes the club is providing a home rink from players from up to six other zones who are not members of the BWC, as is also the case with the BWC Academy and Steelers, with all putting more pressure on the club for mid-day ice and weekend showcase ice.
“There are a lot of pressures, but we see some opportunities. We see the under-utilization of Burnaby’s Bill Copeland arena; and we’re working with Burnaby Minor on some ideas to create more opportunities for players.”
Melanson is excited about the challenges ahead, and is very enthusiastic about the recent hire of Maco Balkovec as the club’s new full time Hockey Director.
“He brings tremendous capability and opportunity to the Burnaby Winter Club, for the Academies and also for our minor hockey program. He’s got a background as a teacher by trade; he’s been a professional hockey player, made the pros in ECHL and Europe. He’s very enthusiastic, a steadfast traditionalist who understands hockey and tradition, the whole continuous improvement program.”
“He’s very, very refreshing. We’ve granted him a lot of autonomy, and with the unexpected departure of Ben Cooper to the Canucks, he’s also been granted his wish of having his own team in his first year. Maco is a good addition to the course of direction the Winter Club is going.”