Thunder Bay

'Monopoly' on women's hockey in Thunder Bay, Ont. must be broken, parents say

Samantha Stubbs is packing up her goalie pads and heading to the Coeur d'Alene Hockey Academy in Idaho after her family says she was shut out of the elite league in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Ontario Women's Hockey Association won't sanction second team in the city

The Thunder Bay Twisters girls hockey team spent their 2015/16 season practicing but playing few games after coaches say they were shut out of the provincial hockey association. (submitted by Donna Stubbs)

Samantha Stubbs is packing up her goalie pads and heading to the Coeur d'Alene Hockey Academy in Idaho after she was shut out of the elite league in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

The 15-year-old is one of more than a dozen girls who tried, along with their parents, to start a second women's hockey organization in the city last year.

They say the Thunder Bay Women's Hockey Association (TBWHA) is freezing them out, but the provincial governing body says the talent pool in the city is too small to support two organizations.

Samantha Stubbs, 15, is leaving Thunder Bay to pursue her hockey dreams at a hockey academy in the United States. (submitted by Donna Stubbs)
"I'm so excited for it, I can't wait," Stubbs said as she contemplated the move across a border and nearly 2500 kilometres west to Idaho. "It's going to be different for sure, but different for the better. It's not going to be worse than last year."

Last year Stubbs said her confidence was shaken when she was told by Thunder Bay Women's Hockey not to bother trying out for their 'B' team, the Fury, after being cut from the 'A' team, the Queens. 

"It's not a good situation to be in, especially at a young age," she said. "Because when you're a teenager, you're still learning and still getting your confidence up, so when people tell you you're not good, it's hurtful."

Only game in town

TBWHA is the only game in town for girls who don't want to play in the boys league. As part of the Ontario Women's Hockey Association, the organization is the gateway to provincial and national women's teams and the place to get noticed for hockey scholarships.

TBWHA denies the allegation that Stubbs was told not to try out.

Stubbs joined GO Hockey. The group was started four years ago to develop skills and provide more than the hour-or-so of ice time per week that girls in the TBWHA's house league program get if they've been cut from the Queens. 

Last year, with 17 talented players, GO Hockey decided it was time to form a team of its own to compete against TBWHA teams.

"We believe that athletes should have choices when it comes to deciding where they wish to achieve their athletic pursuits and who will best support them in that endeavour," said Steve Filipovic, who founded GO Hockey.

Their application to be sanctioned by the provincial hockey association was turned down. The sanction is needed to be insured as a team and to compete against any other women's elite team in Canada, or the United States.

As the local governing body within the provincial organization, TBWHA had the final say on whether to accept GO Hockey's application.

'One solid organization'

"It has been our experience that one solid organization is a strength," Ontario Women's Hockey Association president Fran Ryder said, adding that TBWHA is a "great organization."

"If you've got an AA competitive team and you lose two or three top players, that can impact the caliber for the rest of the players," she said.

Some hockey parents argue that Thunder Bay is already losing top girls hockey players because of frustration over the limited opportunities available through the TBWHA.

"It would be nice to keep them here in the north to have the same opportunity within hockey for everybody," said Cara Chambers, whose daughter Faith was cut from the Queens last year. "Girls shouldn't have to leave or sit on the sidelines when its a sport they love and they're competitive at doing it."
'A lot of parents have what I would call parental blinders,' says Thunder Bay Women's Hockey Association president Ghislaine Attema. (Jody Porter/CBC)
The president of TBWHA said she feels "really sad" about the girls who have left the organization.

Ghislaine Attema said TBWHA has strict policies and procedures around coach and player selection to the point of having independent observers help in adjudicating players for the AA program.

"I hear people saying that you have to be part of the board to have your kids on the team," Attema said. "I would say that categorically, that's wrong — I'm the president and my kids didn't make the team.

"A lot of parents have what I call parental blinders, I have them too and the reality is unfortunate at times," she added.

Samantha Stubbs parents believe the girls league should operate like boys hockey, where there are several organizations that feed into the elite system and the association that oversees competition is arms-length from the teams themselves.

"There should always be an option for girls to play," said Donna Stubbs. "We're in northern Ontario, we're one of the hockey capitals. We produce a lot of good players from Thunder Bay in the boys league, but they've had the opportunity to play."

"We're sending our daughter at the age of 15 to Idaho, that's 23 hours away, it doesn't seem like that should be necessary," she said. "There should be opportunities for her to play here."

The GO Hockey group plans to submit another application to be sanctioned this season.

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story stated that Samantha Stubbs said she was told not to try out for the Queens. The line should have said the Fury. Both teams are part of the TBWHA.
    Aug 15, 2016 3:24 PM ET
  • The updated version of this story adds TBWHA denial regarding the allegation that Samantha Stubbs was told not to try out for their elite team. President Ghislaine Attema says Stubbs did try out for the Queens and was cut.
    Aug 15, 2016 10:06 AM ET

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