ESTEVAN - The Saskatchewan Female Hockey League (SFHL) will have a new U13 AA division next season, and the Estevan Bearcats will be part of the loop.
The Estevan Minor Hockey Association (EMHA) announced last week that Estevan would be included, joining teams from the Battlefords, Western Prairie (Rosetown), Saskatoon, Warman, Prince Albert, Northeast (Star City), Swift Current, Lumsden-Bethune and Weyburn.
The SFHL presently has a U13 A circuit, and Estevan has two teams competing under the Power Dodge Bearcats name.
Brad Durr, who is the female director for the EMHA, said they decided to apply for a team after reviewing their current and future numbers in the U13 age group.
“We thought it would be good for the girls, moving forward for development, and for Estevan Minor Hockey to put a team in,” said Durr.
Part of the selection criteria was the number of female hockey players in Estevan and surrounding areas.
“I think this year we had … around 105 girls registered for female hockey in Estevan,” said Durr.
He added that the two U13 A Bearcats teams have 15 or 16 players each.
Another factor in the selection is that Estevan presently has AA teams in the boys’ divisions.
Durr noted that about four years ago, Hockey Sask. came out with a new female development model to increase the high-performance hockey in the female division throughout the province.
They started with a U18 AA league to go with the AAA circuit, and then they added a U15 AA league. Now the U13 AA division will be launched.
The U15 AA team for the southeast plays out of Weyburn, while the U18 AA team competes out of Midale.
“We do have a number of girls that are playing with the U18 and U15 teams,” said Durr.
It was also important for Estevan to have a commitment to female coaches. Hockey Sask. has come out with a mandate for female coaches, and they want to see a female on the bench in all divisions.
“With our great volunteers that we have in this city, we have had a lot of females that have expressed coaching interest, so we’ll continue to work on that moving forward in the offseason,” said Durr.
The EMHA expects it will also be able to sustain a U13 A Bearcats team next season, thanks to the projected number of female hockey players.
Players and coaches will be needed for next season. In late March or April, the EMHA typically issues its call for applications for the AA coaches. A couple of people have already expressed interest in guiding the U13 AA Bearcats.
“Once we have our coach in place, then … we’re probably going to be out looking for a team sponsor,” said Durr.
Durr noted that female hockey has gone through considerable growth in Estevan in recent years. There was a push that began more than a decade ago to grow the sport among local girls, and past-presidents Chad Farr and Kraig Wanner were big supporters.
“Chad Farr developed the Estevan Bearcats model going forward, and that really seemed to take off. I know when my daughter, who’s in U15 right now, when she was back in U9, in novice, I think I could count on … one hand on how many females were in that division. We had less than five females playing in U9, and in U9 this year, I think we’re sitting at around 20-something,” said Farr.
The Bearcats program continues to grow as well. The objective is to develop responsible girls through the game of hockey, and to teach important life skills such as teamwork, hard work, commitment, responsibility and respect for themselves and others.
“Achieving some of these attributes allows the players to complete and expand their hockey dreams moving forward,” Durr said.
Local female hockey players have gone on to compete at the post-secondary level, and have returned to Estevan to give back to the program.