The Whistler Minor Hockey Association (WMHA) has a lot to celebrate this year with 10 new banners from the regular season and playoffs, and from the PeeWee rep team's history-making win at the provincial championships. It was the first Whistler Winterhawks team to ever win at the provincial tournament.
The icing on the cake, awarded last week, was the Fred Page Trophy, awarded by the Pacific Coast Amateur Hockey Association to the "Minor Hockey Association of the Year." The award includes a plaque that will be permanently displayed at Meadow Park, plus a large temporary trophy that will remain at the arena until the end of next season.
The club plaques on the trophy go back almost 40 years, but this is the first time the award has come to Whistler.
WMHA president Steve Legge said the award was completely unexpected.
"I was in a bit of shock at first because I wasn't anticipating it at all," he said. "There are so many organizations in the PCAHA, and some big clubs out in Chilliwack and the North Shore, it's pretty amazing to win something of such high merit."
Legge said the trophy was not based on the club's performance record this season, but on other factors off the ice.
"One reason is that we're an organization that has shown growth, we've gone from 175 kids to 225 in the last three years, while most organizations have stayed the same or shrunk a little," he said. "To see that much growth in a few years is pretty big."
The second reason given by the PCAHA was the commitment shown by the kids, parents and coaches to travel so far to get to games. "We're going out to games in White Rock and Burnaby and Port Coquitlam at 8 p.m. and coming home and still getting kids to school the next day," he said. "We put on the miles."
The club, with some assistance from the municipality, has encouraged participation and offset some of the travel costs by keeping enrolment costs low. At early bird pricing, which is in effect through June 30, the cost of enrolment is $340 to $460 for the entire season, which includes ice time to practice and roughly 20 games. Legge estimates that's at least $150 less per year than other organizations charge.
Lastly, the PCAHA recognized the fact that so many players make an additional sacrifice by travelling to Whistler from as far away as D'Arcy and Mount Currie to make 7 a.m. practices and games.
Legge said the level of dedication from parents, coaches and players is also the reason why the association had such a good year competitively — so in a sense the Fred Page Trophy is based on performance, he said.
"You also have to be a club that's in good standing, and when you don't have a whack of suspensions handed out for being a bunch of derelicts, it helps," he said. "I'm proud of the way our players represent the town."
Legge shared the credit for the award with past boards and the work that has been done to improve the board and the association, and bring numbers back up after a few years of declining enrolment. Legge said that it's natural for a volunteer-driven association to have ups and downs, because board members are usually only involved as long as their children are playing hockey. The trick was to ensure that good people are involved, and to create an organization that wasn't as dependent on having a few super parents involved — and that's enjoyable to be a part of.
"I think we have a fun board, it's fun to be on it and it's not as high stress as it used to be. And truthfully we have such a great volunteer organization and a lot of dedicated parents, which makes my job a lot easier," said Legge. "(Past president) Keith McIvor set it up that way, and I've been fortunate to be able to step in and expand on that."
The association is not sitting on its laurels or standing still. They are going to continue to actively recruit kids into programs and host camps and events for players, and will build on a program that brings back older players as mentors for younger kids. As well, Legge is hoping that the league will be able to secure more ice time now that the municipality has committed to hosting a public sheet of ice at Whistler Olympic Plaza. If a few of the free skate periods were made available the league could use those time slots to schedule teams for additional practices, or host special events like goalie practices.
"Because we have that second sheet of ice, public skating is not as busy and it's alleviating some of the pressure there," said Legge.