It must be a sign of the times. Each and every year, of late, the landscape within the local minor hockey community appears to shift, as organizers and parents deal with the reality of dwindling numbers and competing interests.
The 2011-2012 season will be no different, as the flag is unveiled on the Nickel City Hockey Association. The NCHA represents the merger of the rep hockey component of the minor hockey associations in Valley East, Nickel Centre, Rayside-Balfour and Walden, and will oversee the management of "AA" and "A" (and possibly "B", if numbers warrant these teams), thoughout much of the area covered off under the NOHA District 2 boundaries.
While the new organization does have some ties to the Nickel City Sons grouping, primarily through the use of affiliation agreements moving forward, the men who will govern the new body remain almost completely distinct from their brethren who will oversee "AAA" hockey within the same geographical area.
NCHA President Gaston Lescault maintains that the development of the new organization was essentially required to deal with the changing realities of minor hockey within the Nickel Basin.
"We have a few areas where we lacked, and we felt that we needed to fill some gaps," said Lescault. "Affiliation was needed right throughout District 2." In fact, the region will now enjoy open boudaries in as much as it pertains to player movement, balancing off the geographical realities of allowing children ideally to play closer to home with the competitive commitment in attempting to field balanced teams.
And this challenging juggling act was certainly not the only obstacle the group needed to overcome. "The loss of identity for many of the associations remained an issue," acknowledged Lescault.
In fact, all of the pre-existing minor hockey organizations, save the Valley East Progressive Hockey crew, will continue to exist and oversee the operation of houseleague hockey within their own specific region.
By dispersing teams at various age groupings throughout the entire geographical area covered by District 2, the NCHA is hopeful that increased travel requirements are kept to a minimum, even allowing for teams that are based out of places like Capreol and Coniston, arenas that have not fielded rep hockey teams in quite a few years now.
Some might contend that providing a more "regional" outlook to minor hockey will cause youngsters to forego rep hockey, choosing to play at a houseleague level closer to home. "We think that the numbers should be relatively the same," counters Lescault.
"By having a true "AA" and "A" system, the disparity that exists between the top and bottom players should shrink." While things can certainly change between now and the end of summer, the NCHA foresees offering open tryouts at the Sudbury Arena in August for each of the various competitive levels.
Instead of trying out for a particular "team", players will be attempting to crack a particular competitive barrier. As Lescault explained it, the Bantam "AA" tryouts, for instance, would be overseen not only by the two coaches who have been selected to guide the "East" and "West" Bantam "AA" teams within District 2, but also with the assistance and input of a committee which administers the distribution of talent in an evenly manner.
With countless long-time hockey people sitting around the table, it's a safe bet that the NCHA Board is not so naive as to believe that the inate competitiveness that causes any particular team to forego regional balance in favour of ultra-competitiveness at a provincial level is never to be seen again.
Therein lies one of the countless challenges the group is likely to face in its infacy stages. "We wanted to make sure that we have teams that are competitive locally, but can also compete within their category throughout Ontario," said Lescault.
Recognizing that this initial information likely provides at least as many questions as it does answers, Lescault and company invite the residents of District 2 to visit the new association website at "www.nickelcityhockey.ca"