This year’s hockey season is a big deal for the Beaver Valley Nitehawks, a Junior B men’s hockey team based in Fruitvale, British Columbia.
In 2021 and 2022, thanks to a pandemic, tournaments were stripped down to the neck guard. Playoffs were missed, bleachers were empty, and the young men who had come from all over B.C. and Alberta to train and advance their hockey career prospects lost out.
“We built this team, and players refer to it as a family,” says head coach Terry Jones. “Not having [those games] was the hardest because it’s something inside your soul that you didn’t have.”
Terry has spent most of his professional life working with young adults in the Trail area, he has been a high school teacher and counsellor, and by day he is the principal at Glenmerry Elementary. By night, he’s the coach of the Junior B men’s hockey team based in Fruitvale, British Columbia, the Nitehawks.
As any coach would want, Terry’s goal is to help his team play their best and win games, but he also wants to make sure that the time they spend playing for the team has a lasting impact on their lives. He wants these players to care for themselves and become positive role models.
“I’m hoping that when they get older, as dads, as community [members], they will take an active leadership role in whatever community they settle in,” Terry says.
Terry was born and raised near Fruitvale and raised his sons in nearby Trail. Together they played hockey.
“When I think about the most fun times in our family, we were out in the backyard during Christmas time, on a backyard rink,” Terry says. “People would come over, and we’d be out there all day long playing and just having a blast.
During Covid, outdoor rinks became more important when indoor ice times were cut. Terry has noticed, however, that winters are less reliable than they used to be.
“We used to have backyard rinks every year when the boys were young. We’d look forward to that,” Terry remembers. “But over time, I notice that you never know what the weather will bring. Things are a lot different. With the summer and how hot it was here, the fires, smoke, and flooding. We’re in the middle of rapidly changing history now.”
Ottawa, Ontario’s Robert McLeman backs up what Terry is seeing. Robert is a skater, professor and one Canadian behind a not-for-profit called Rinkwatch, and he tracks the number of skateable days at 1500 outdoor ice rinks across Canada.
“We looked at all of our rinks and found that somewhere between -5 and -6 degrees is the temperature threshold for good skating,” says Robert. “ By the end of the century, people will lose [a lot of] skating days. [People] don’t need scientific proof, it’s something they are seeing with their own eyes.”
While he hopes backyard hockey will continue to be a Canadian pastime, Terry now brings in the lessons from backyard ice rinks to indoor hockey in his coaching.
Terry thinks now more than ever we need to create a culture of open and supportive conversations about almost anything for the good of his community and for the good of the sport.
Terry says, “We want our guys to be good in their community first. Who wants to be around a bunch of entitled jerks? Nobody.”
While there have been recent controversies around fighting in the league Terry’s team plays in, Terry is hopeful, “we chose to push past it, learn from it,…and grow from it.”
While supporting a healthy environment is top of mind for Terry, he is encouraged by his younger players.
“I’m an old man sitting on our bus watching and listening to what the guys are talking about,” Terry says. “Conversations about [what’s going on] in Russia right now, how our bottles are getting recycled, how hard it was not being able to play during Covid. They talk openly about their mental health. Hockey players aren’t supposed to be like that; they should be tough and keep all their problems bottled up because it shows weakness. I feel like we’re breaking through that boundary.”