Ball hockey nationals hit Wesbild

Vernon hosting Under 17 ball hockey nationals at Wesbild Centre.

It is a sport most Canadians grew up playing in the streets with neighbourhood friends.

There were no intermissions, and the only stoppages in play came when someone yelled “Car,” followed by “Game on.”

In recent years, ball hockey has gained more of an international profile, and is even being considered as a potential Olympic sport further down the road.

Rising ball hockey talent is on display this weekend as the Under 17 men’s nationals are underway at Wesbild Centre. The four-team tourney features a pair of Coastal entries – B.C. Thunder and West Coast Wolverines – and two from the Prairies – Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Preliminary began today (Thursday), with upcoming games at 7 (Thunder vs Wolverines) and 8:20 p.m (Manitoba vs Saskatchewan). The Thunder open Friday action at noon against Saskatchewan. The Wolverines take on Manitoba at 1:20, and Saskatchewan at 7:00.

The Thunder and Manitoba battle in an 8:20 game.

On Saturday, the second- and third-place preliminary round teams square off at noon, with the bronze-medal game slated for 10 a.m. Sunday, followed by the championship game at noon.

Erik Locke, commissioner of the Okanagan Ball Hockey League, worked with the Canadian Ball Hockey Association to host U17 nationals to help raise awareness of the sport in the region.

“It’s just exploded here with the men’s league,” said Locke, noting the involvement of Vernon Viper grads Dave Robinson, Bryce Kakoske and Kevin Kraus has helped boost the sport’s local profile.

“We’re looking to grow a youth league so it can be a feeder league for young adults.”

Locke plans to start a minor league this fall in Armstrong, starting in October at Hassen Memorial Arena. A summer league will follow next year at Wesbild.

He says ball hockey, a non-contact sport, is ideal for not only hockey players looking for some offseason cross-training, but also for those looking to have a run and get involved in a fun team sport.

“It’s a great way to stay in shape, it’s absolutely affordable, it’s well organized, it’s fully insured,” said Locke. “It’s for all ages and you don’t have to be in tip-top shape to be out there.

“It’s a real clean sport too. There’s no fighting, and stick work is penalized. There’s not that old stigma where it was a hack-and-whack kind of sport.”

Anyone interested in getting involved can contact Erik through the league’s Okanagan Ball Hockey Facebook page, or by e-mailing him at eriklocke@telus.net.