Brantford minor hockey looks forward to new season

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In a season that was far from normal, the Brantford Minor Hockey Association wanted to make sure it gave its players as much as possible.

“We did the best that we could possibly do to get kids on the ice,” BMHA general manager Kevin Murray said of one of the organization’s priorities this past season.

“Our house league, they were on the ice twice a week like they normally would be, except for the first lockdown in January. Our rep teams were probably on the ice 75 or more times through the whole season.”

Following the abrupt end to the 2019-20 season in March last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the BMHA prepared for a vastly different 2020-21 season. That included having players arrive partially dressed, limiting the number of skaters and viewing capacity in each arena and game modifications, such as no body contact for rep teams.

However, except for the lockdown in January and the season-ending shift to the restrictive red zone in March under the province’s COVID-19 response framework, things went as smoothly as possible.

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Looking to the present, normally at this time of year AAA tryouts would have wrapped up and A/AA tryouts would just be concluding. However, due to Ontario’s current stay-at-home order, tryouts in the spring were impossible so they’ve been shifted to the end of the summer.

As well, the organization’s First Shift program, which aims to provide a positive experience for new to hockey families, didn’t wrap up. Murray said that, if the stay-at-home order is lifted in time, he hopes those skaters can get in the one or two skates they have remaining.

Looking ahead, the organization will hold its annual general meeting virtually on June 28. But, before that, plans must be made for the 2021-22 season.

The organization plans to offer an on- and off-ice training program provided by Luke Van Moerkerke, owner of Athlete Farm Training in Brantford, and Paul Szczechura, a Brantford native and former NHLer.

The BMHA will look at expanding the program to A/AA and MD down the road.

“At least right now it’s at the AAA level where they’re going to be given (off-ice) training sessions through Luke and then on-ice with Paul,” Murray said.

“The biggest thing we want to do is…give as many players the opportunity to do this stuff so that when they get to their minor midget and midget AAA years they have a shot and are prepared.”

“When Paul came on, it made it a no-brainer. When we get somebody who has pedigree like him, it’s really good.”

Both Van Moerkerke and Szczechura will work with coaches to tailor programs to each specific group.

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As for the minor midget (under–16) AAA program, which is the age group that has players eligible to be drafted by Ontario Hockey League teams, there was a recent change at the helm. After several successful years leading the program, coach Scott Rex has left the 99ers and joined the Hamilton Huskies.

“We all know he did a great job during his time here,” Murray said.

He said a public announcement on the hiring of a new coach is expected soon. That person is wrapping up loose ends with his old team.

Although it’s several months until the new season starts in September, the 99ers organization is looking toward the future. There are plans being developed by the Minor Hockey Alliance of Ontario and Ontario Hockey Federation for the season dependent on where things stand in terms of COVID-19.

Murray said he knows people want things back to the way they were.

“I know the Alliance and OHF are planning for a normal and some type of COVID-related (season),” he said.

“Everyone wants to get back to normal and play the game the way we all know.”

Visit www.brantfordminorhockey.com for more information.

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