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Youth ball hockey flourishing in Labrador West

Labrador West ball hockey team that went to this years provincials.
Labrador West ball hockey team that went to this years provincials.

LAB WEST - In a short time, the RMS youth ball hockey league in Labrador West has grown by leaps and bounds.

Wayne Decker, one of the coaches and organizers, told the Aurora it was their fifth and when he and Evelyn Ryan started the league, they had no idea how popular this sport would become.

"It's basically a fun league, for people of all skill levels," Decker explained. “There are about 85 young people, male and female playing this year.”

Decker credits a win at last year’s Newfoundland and Labrador summer games as a big catalyst that created more interest in the sport.

"The Labrador team had players from a number of communities from Labrador, including Wabush and Labrador City. That team took home the gold, an amazing accomplishment considering it was the first time the played together. They didn't lose a game, had 1 tie, and won the gold in double overtime.”

That win sparked players in the area to work harder at their skills and to look at being a little more competitive, he said.

That paid off well.

"This year we took our team to the Provincial ball hockey championships for the first time," Decker said. "They played well; their only loss was in the semi-final.”

From that, 20 players were chosen to go to Kitchener, Ontario for this years under 15 finals. Seven of that team were from Labrador West. They are Nick Sexton, Mark Hillier, Matt Ryan, Brody Chatman, Phillip Little, Nathan Grouchy, and Matt Penney.

That team returned to the province with bronze medals for the B division.

"That's pretty amazing for these young players and a lot of motivation for the sport," Decker told the Aurora.

Even more amazing is the fact that two of the team members from Labrador West, Nick Sexton and Mark Hillier, were named to the Canadian national team that will play at an international competition next summer in the Czech Republic.

Decker explained that Hillier played hockey in Corner Brook last year, and has moved to Ontario this year but he played with the Labrador West team at the provincials.

"We still consider him one of us, and we always will."

Nick Sexton was at the Duley Park campground when he found out he was selected.

"My mom read the email, it was a pretty awesome moment," he told the Aurora.

Sexton has been playing ice hockey since he was five, and he says adapting to ball hockey was quite easy.

"There are differences," he explained, "On the ice you glide, but when you play ball hockey you're constantly running. The technique is a little different."

Sexton admits to liking both equally, and says they both help keep him in good condition. Sexton won the award for top defenseman at this year’s provincials.

To get ready for the tournament and to improve his skills, Sexton will play with the local men's league this year.

"They play at a higher level of ability, so I will learn a lot from them," he told the Aurora. "They are really, really good to me, some of them have played internationally so they are telling me what to do to get ready."

The advancement of the sport and the youth ball hockey league in the few years it has been underway is reflected in just how well the teams are doing locally, provincially, and nationally. The next big step is the international competition next year.

"We have a lot of support here in the community," Decker explained. "We worked together with the Labrador City fire department on their 50-50 draw as a fundraiser, the towns and businesses are good to us as well.”

Meanwhile Decker says the main object of the youth ball hockey league is fun, and he's hoping more young people will be motivated to try the sport when they see just how rewarding the sport can be.

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