Young hockey players from the Under Atom division played between periods during the Canucks Alumni versus West Fraser Centre Team at the opening of the West Fraser Centre in September. Melanie Law photo

Minor Hockey’s new Under Atom program having a positive impact on skating skills

Players age four to eight are now grouped in one division, and separated according to skill level

This year, Quesnel and District Minor Hockey Association (QDMHA) introduced their Under Atom program, which stipulates that players age eight and younger play on half the ice.

This replaces the previous Pre-Novice (age four to six) and Novice (age seven to eight) divisions, bringing all players age four to eight together, and separating them into smaller groupings based on skill, rather than age.

The change is something that was brought in by B.C. Hockey, and Quesnel has taken it on board.

QDMHA president Dave Greenwood says the change has made a positive impact.

“A lot of kids come in not knowing how to skate, so we teach them. When they played full ice, it didn’t do anything for development because only the kids who could skate could score a goal.

“This way, they get way more touches of the puck and learn to skate faster,” he explains.

The players are divided into groups A, B, C or D depending on their skill level and ability to skate (with A being the lowest level and D the highest), and they can move up a group halfway through the season when they are reassessed.

“All kids develop differently. This system makes it easier on the coaches too. It’s hard for them to coach kids who have vastly different skating abilities,” comments Greenwood.

The Under Atom children now makes up the largest group in Quesnel Minor Hockey. There are 102 players in the division, two of whom belong to Jasper Croy.

“Our youngest son Desmond is five, so it’s his first year of hockey. Our older son London is eight, and this is his last year in Under Atom.”

Croy praises the coaches with having assessed his children’s abilities correctly; he feels they are in the right grouping for their skill levels. He says he sees the benefit of reduced ice, particularly for his five-year-old.

“It makes for a really fast-paced, close game. All the kids get a chance to whack at the puck a little more.

“I’d hate to see the first-year kids do the full ice, with their tiny little legs…”

Croy has seen it both ways, with London having joined Minor Hockey last year, before the Under Atom program was initiated.

“Last year had a more competitive aspect. The kids were divided in teams, they had jerseys, they played with the same kids all year long.

“London barely knew how to skate when he started, and he ended up winning the Most Improved Player at the end of the season. But I guess it could have gone either way; if some kids don’t quite get the confidence the first year, it could have ruined it for future years.”

Croy says London is excited to play full ice next year, as he’s at the top of the Under Atoms, in the D group.

“He’s on the borderline now and we are really looking forward to him playing real hockey next year in Atom,” he says.

The hockey dad says his only criticism of the Under Atom program is that the players aren’t learning the rules of the game as well as they did when they played on separate teams.

“For the older kids, eight-year-olds, they’re clever. They learned it all last year but it’s gone out the window a bit with the skills-based program. They aren’t playing games, so they aren’t really learning the rules.”

Greenwood says the QDMHA will be putting on a tournament for the seven and eight year olds, so they’ll have a chance to play some games this weekend (Dec. 8-9), which will hopefully solidify the rules for them before they hit Atom.

“Overall, we’ve had positive feedback from parents about the program,” comments Greenwood.

“The only thing we need is to come up with a better name than Under Atom!”

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