When the Women's World Hockey Championship kicks off in Kamloops it will be with a deep sense of provincial pride — B.C. host city, B.C. venue, B.C. volunteers and B.C. fans.
So it's a shame there's no B.C. player on Team Canada. Again.
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In the 27-year history of the Canadian senior women's team only one — ONE — B.C. player has ever made the cut: Goalie Danielle Dube of Richmond. That was 15 years ago.
Think about it. Almost three decades of teams. The third most populous province in Canada. Not one skater.
B.C. knows hockey
It's not that hockey leaders in the province don't know how to cultivate young talent. Shea Weber, Jamie Benn and Carey Price are proof of that. Same with Joe Sakic and Scott Niedermayer if you want to go back a generation of male players.
So, what's the problem when it comes to developing elite females?
Burnaby defenceman Kaleigh Fratkin is qualified to offer a few insights.
"When you get to that level and there's only 22 players making the team, it's very political," she said.
Fratkin, 24, spent parts of eight years in the national team system, and had her sights set on making the 2018 Olympic team. She gained fame as the first girl in B.C to ever to play midget triple A boys hockey. At age 14, she was named to Canada's first ever Under-18 female team. and last year helped the Under-22 squad win gold at the Nations Cup.
But last March Fratkin was handed her release from the national team program.
"You just realize there is a lot that is out of your control and you can't be bitter about it and I'm definitely not," she said. "One door closed and another opened."
Fratkin's new hockey home is with the Connecticut Whale in the startup National Women's Hockey League. She's the highest paid Canadian in the league earning $20,000. Barely a fraction of the millions NHLers make, but still, the first time she's earned a pay cheque for playing.
"It's an ongoing joke with my family," she laughs. "They say 'we all know who's paying for dinner.' "
Fratkin, as much as anyone, was hoping this World Championship in Kamloops would motivate the decision makers at Team Canada to end the B.C. player shutout streak.
"The way I see it if you're going to have a world championship in B.C. it would be a no-brainer to put a B.C. girl on that roster," she said. "Regardless of if the player is going to play, or if they're going to be a healthy scratch, a seventh defenceman or 13th forward. Just to promote women's hockey in B.C."
The boost would be welcomed.
"There's so many female participants in other provinces in comparison to what we have," says BC Hockey executive director Barry Petrachenko. "We have 46,000 players in the province, 6,000 of those are female. Those are numbers we would ideally like to double on female side."
Developing high end talent without enough players to make a development system competitive and sustainable at all levels is difficult. That, historically, has been B.C.'s struggle with female hockey. There's many theories as to why.
Hockey versus soccer
Some say there are too many other sport options for athletically minded girls — especially soccer. B.C. is the only province in Canada where soccer season runs fall to spring in direct conflict with hockey season.
Others believe BC Hockey was slow to put resources into organizing and promoting the girls' game years ago when other provinces were jumping on the female hockey bandwagon. A program for major midget girls — 15 to 17-year-olds — didn't launch until 2008. The league struggled for years, and now, even after eight seasons, is still considered a work in progress.
B.C. players also face a geographical disadvantage that makes high-level hockey prohibitively expensive for many families.Because in-province competition is lacking, major midget and junior teams have to seek competition elsewhere. And that means travel. A lot of travel.
Multiple tournaments in Ontario and the eastern United States are the norm because that's where the biggest base of talent is. More importantly, that's where the college and university scouts are.
Surrey's Mark Taylor knows firsthand the hurdles faced by B.C. players. Taylor is head coach of the female major midget Greater Vancouver Comets, and he's written the cheques to support two daughters through the B.C. hockey development system. Taylor was shocked to find out how little hockey costs in Ontario.
"I was told in Ontario the major midget program was $2,500 a year," said Taylor. "The dad I was talking to almost fell over when I told him our major midget team was paying $9,000 a year each."
In spite of the challenges, female hockey in B.C. does appear to be on the upswing with a number of talented players gaining profile. At the top of the list are Aldergrove sisters Amy and Sarah Potomak. Amy was the only B.C. player invited to the world championship evaluation camp, while Sarah was just named NCAA rookie of the year after leading the Minnesota Gophers to the U.S. college title last week.
In fact, without naming names, Team Canada general manager Melody Davidson told CBC News a B.C. breakthrough the at the senior national level isn't far off.
Mark Taylor says when it finally happens, the ripple effect will be enormous.
"Once you get somebody with that profile, it becomes more tangible for the younger ones. The dream becomes that much stronger," he said. "We're on the right track, it's just difficult when you're out west."