September 29, 2018
It’s all about a new culture these days at the Burnaby Winter Club.
While the emphasis is still clearly on providing a high level of training and on ice development – there is now much more emphasis on off ice development, and an understanding that many players need more time to develop. For players, it means less pressure and more fun.
The new emphasis has evolved over the past five years, in tandem with the growth of the Canadian Sports School Hockey League teams at the BWC Academy.
This season BWC is adding a second bantam team to its Academy program, bringing the total to four, up from two in 2013-2014.
In 2012-2013, the year before BWC first joined, the CSSHL consisted of just two divisions, Midget Varsity and Midget Prep, with five teams in Prep and six in Varsity.
Bantam teams played for the first time in 2014-2015, starting with four Prep and four Varsity teams. This coming season, the league will consist of fifteen Bantam Prep and nine Bantam Varsity teams.
In addition, there are now thirteen E15 teams, twelve female teams, fifteen Midget Prep and nine Midget Varsity teams – 73 teams total, up from 11 just six years ago.
In this year’s Western Hockey League Bantam draft, 42 of the 49 BC players selected came from Academy teams.
With their first move into E15 and Midget Prep in 2013-2014, BWC was providing a new outlet for top players graduating out of bantam. But in the first few years, the majority of BWC Academy players were coming from outside the club, as their top graduating bantam players chose mostly to play Major Midget or junior.
Today, it’s a much different story.
BWC Hockey Director, Maco Balkovec says, “Now, after five years, we’re over 50% homegrown Academy players. We’ve exceeded our expectations by far.”
And the teams are competing very well in the league.
Last year’s BWC Midget Prep team finished at the top of the league, with a 34-1-1 record, the E15 team finished in fourth place, one point behind Delta, the top BC team last year.
In its first year in the league last season, the Bantam Prep team finished with a respectable 17-11-2 record.
Reflecting on many changes to the hockey model over the past few years, BWC Hockey Director Maco Balkovec states that people are now forced to make changes and organizations have to react.
“We feel we’ve been able to that, by offering the Academy model as another option here at BWC.
“We still want to be the best, so we can’t sit still, with a lot of organizations gunning for our players. But at the same time, we’ve made some positive changes to our culture, we are very focused on internal development.”
Balkovec says there are new threats on the horizon – the evolution of spring hockey programs into year round hockey programs, for example.
“The biggest problem is everyone is trying to be elite.
“Who cares where you are when you’re 8 years old? We’re interested in a longer term model. And providing for a development model that allows an 8 year old to survive and advance over a number of years.
“I think we’ve been successful at that, and we’ve changed the culture to one that’s more inclusive now. Not everyone can be elite. There’s more emphasis on joy and loving the game. We still want to compete to be the best, and to hang banners, but we don’t talk about that, instead we follow a process, and that process will lead to success over time.”
It’s a change that members have noticed, and endorse.
Doug Macdonald is one of them. Macdonald has a couple of kids in the pipeline, and one more soon to join them. One is in Peewee, one is in Initiation, and the youngest will start with the Rascals program this year.
Macdonald who played one year of Midget at BWC in the 80s, then three years of BC junior, four years at Wisconsin and six years of pro in the Buffalo Sabres system – has nothing but positive things to say about the current state of affairs at BWC.
Macdonald was approached by a couple of board members to come back and coach Peewee, a year before Balkovec arrived. So he’s seen the changes first hand.
“In terms of BWC, it’s like any other business, success starts with leadership. Maco has done a great job of building a positive program here. There’s a high level of consistency throughout the whole program, with so many talented coaches, at all levels.
“It’s amazing, sometimes I’ll see three or four guys with pro hockey experience, out on the ice with seven year-olds.
“There’s no magic formula, just stick to the fundamentals and the kids will develop.
“But it’s not just the on-ice experience, it’s more the off ice experience, that is so impressive, and so positive.”
Roxanne Reid feels the same way. She came to BWC two years ago for first year Atom for her son, from Ridge Meadows initiation.
Her son had played spring hockey with some of the BWC kids, and ultimately it was his decision that convinced the family to join, she says.
“At first we were hesitant about it – Ridge Meadows was very positive too – but it’s been terrific. We love the small tight groups, the focus on hockey and academics. We also really appreciate the smaller area ice surfaces for the young players – the novice and initiation teams play exclusively on the small ice.
“But over everything is the culture. I think there’s a cultural renaissance happening at BWC. And it’s all driven by Maco. He knows everyone’s names – that made a great impression on my son. There’s a real family environment here. The focus here is on creating great human beings, not only hockey players – that’s the biggest thing for me. “
Sheldon Evers, currently bantam divisional manager at the club, also credits the BWC board of directors with making a lot of positive change, creating a more inclusive culture and pushing changes required to keep BWC a top choice for hockey families.
For Evers, the realization that change was required was when 2002-born Justin Sourdif* left the club for the Delta Hockey Academy after second year peewee (2014-2015), rather than continuing on with the BWC Bantam A1 program.
“I didn’t want to see more kids leaving the BWC family. The writing was on the wall and something had to be done. I feel the club has done a good job on making the transition required in our minor hockey program
“The emphasis here is on development, with more of an understanding that every kid develops at his own rate and in his own way. So there’s more a social aspect to the club now, in creating a fun environment, and in providing kids with a place where they can succeed on their own.
Evers says the changes are evident in other areas as well.
“There’s much more transparency now – in the team selection process, for example. Overall there’s much more of an inclusive feeling.”
So while there no doubt will be more challenges ahead in the BC hockey world, with the potential additions of Bantam Zone teams, and perhaps even Peewee Zone teams, for example, it’s clear that BWC has done a remarkable job of adapting to the changing times, and is well positioned to meet whatever changes may be in store in the years to come.
And keeping alive its motto: Where tradition inspires excellence.
*(Sourdif was selected third overall by the Vancouver Giants in the bantam draft, moved to the BCMML in his second year of midget, where he was named BCMML Player of the Year this spring).