YARMOUTH, N.S. – When Monica LeBlanc first brought her young daughter out to the rink to play female hockey many years ago, she had hoped, and expected, to get to watch her daughter play until her graduation year.
But now her daughter is in Grade 12 and LeBlanc won’t get to see her play – not because her daughter has lost interest in the sport; far from it, she wants to play. But rather because her daughter was born a few days too soon.
Her daughter’s birthday is Dec. 28, which, in minor hockey terms, makes her an over-ager. She needed to have been born on Jan. 1, 2000, or later to play midget hockey this year.
Living in a rural part of the province, it’s not like there’s a lot of options beyond minor hockey. She could play on a recreational midget C team with the boys, but she can’t play on a girls’ competitive rep midget team because of her age, nor even a midget A co-ed team, the family has been told.
“It seems unfair to develop female players season after season and then tell them they can’t play with their peers in their last year,” LeBlanc wrote in a letter she sent to Hockey Nova Scotia. “I hardly think it is fair to tell her she cannot play when someone four days younger – her friends her classmates – can enjoy female hockey to the fullest for an entire season while she has nowhere to play and can only watch from the sidelines.”
"I would ask you to reconsider and change the over-age rule and allow grade twelve students to join their peers and friends to play their last year together," she wrote.
In a response to her letter LeBlanc was told female council will not be reviewing the age rule for this upcoming season.
“Sorry for any inconvenience it may cause,” stated the reply.
An inconvenience, questions LeBlanc? She says it’s more than that.
Because of the over-ager rule (and a similar rule also applies for male hockey players, although for the boys it seems there's more possible alternative options) there had been talk of other options for girls considered too old for midget minor hockey who still want to play competitive hockey. One option was a junior female league that would have included a team in the valley, but that fell through. LeBlanc’s daughter’s high school is small and there is no guarantee it will be able to ice a team.
It’s been suggested her daughter could play in a competitive female league in the Halifax area, but a six-hour drive to and from all games is not appealing or practical.
LeBlanc also notes in rural areas it is often hard to pull together enough girls to ice teams. If you take two or three girls out of the mix you risk no one being able to play, or players may have to travel a distance outside of their hometown to do so. Of they may have very low numbers on the team. Last year there was no midget girls team in Yarmouth because there wasn't enough players to ice a team.
The situation is also discouraging as through the years LeBlanc spent a lot of time on and off the ice volunteering to help in the development of female hockey.
She says Hockey Nova Scotia has never fully explained to her and her family why this age rule exists and what the harm would be in letting her daughter play, or other female players who find themselves in a similar situation.
HOCKEY NOVA SCOTIA'S REPONSE
Hockey Nova Scotia says older players are prevented from playing when they are over-age due to Hockey Canada’s regulations. Initially, there had been exceptions in this province.
“For a few years, Hockey Nova Scotia’s Female Council did allow for players who did not meet Hockey Canada’s age requirement to apply for special exemption from this regulation. This is what they called their Over-age Policy,” explains Garreth MacDonald, Communications and Special Events Director for Hockey Nova Scotia. “However, two years ago Female Council determined that, at times, those exceptions were having an adverse effect on their leagues.”
MacDonald says in some cases that Female Council dealt with, players were attempting to return to a lower level of competition.
“Because they were playing against players of a lower skill set, they were making the game less safe and creating an imbalance in their leagues,” he explains. “Furthermore, by allowing one over-age player to play, Female Council had to allow all over-age players to play. That’s why Female Council removed the rule, which made it possible for older players to apply for exemptions from Hockey Canada’s regulations.”
Hockey Nova Scotia says it has no way of determining how many girls are unable to play midget hockey in their final year of high school as a result of this rule.
Asked if it concerns Hockey Nova Scotia and Female Council that after so many years of developing female hockey that there are some girls who still desperately want to play, but can’t, MacDonald says, “It is unfortunate that a few girls aren’t able to play in their final year of high school, but Female Council believes that in removing their own policy which allowed for exceptions, they made the game safer and more competitive for players at the lower levels of midget.”
Female Council does not plan to re-instate the policy that they had put in place to allow for exemptions from Hockey Canada’s age regulations. Asked if concerns have been raised by families because of the rule that exists, MacDonald says, “Since this rule came in to effect two years ago, Hockey Nova Scotia has dealt with matters like this on three occasions.”
IN THE FUTURE
Eventually it's felt that over years the over-ager rule will correct itself and girls like LeBlanc’s daughter won't have to sit out their last year of hockey while peers who are their age, or very close to their age, continue to play.
But that’s little solace to this family who isn’t yet ready the give up the sport.
FYI: Hockey Canada regulation:
Hockey Canada defines Midget-aged players by the following regulation (Hockey Canada Regulation B: Competition): Midget Male and Female: Open to players 17 years of age and younger in the current playing season.
The player’s age is determined for the current playing season by the player’s age at Dec. 31 of the current Season. Notwithstanding the above, branches may allow players to play at a lower age division to accommodate less skilled players providing the player qualifies according to guidelines established by the branch for assessing such players. This player shall be granted all the rights and privileges accorded by Hockey Canada except that any such player would be ineligible to register with or affiliate to any Hockey Canada Team in a division or category, which could earn the right to participate in a Hockey Canada national or regional championship.