The longtime head coach of the Swift Current Innovation Credit Union U18 AAA Wildcats says he’s excited about Hockey Saskatchewan’s announcement this week that a new female junior league will begin play in the next hockey season. 

“I’m excited for the opportunities it’s going to allow female hockey players to continue their hockey career when they’re done playing U18 hockey,” said Terry Pavely, who has been coaching the AAA Wildcats for 16 years. “Every year, it seems like we’re missing a few kids through our grade 12 birthdays, but they’re actually only in grade 11. They’re often looking for a place to play while they’re finishing high school and they’re not eligible to play in minor hockey because of that, or they age out at our level and they want to continue to play some competitive hockey. For whatever reason, there might not be a fit for them to go to university or college hockey, but they still would like to play.” 

Provincial female U22 leagues currently exist in Alberta and Manitoba, and Pavely says Saskatchewan needs to align with those other provinces to give female hockey players 18 and older an opportunity to continue to play closer to home. 

“We look through the rosters, that Alberta league has had a lot of Saskatchewan kids over the years,” he said. “Some of them are going to university, some kids are working and not ready to take a year off before they go. I just think this allows them the opportunity to continue playing and maybe with a league in Saskatchewan, it might encourage kids to stay in Saskatchewan. They could go to U of S or U of R or some of the other schools, and in Swift Current, for example, kids could go to Great Plains College and then have an opportunity to continue playing hockey if there’s a team in the southwest.” 

Pavely says he’s interested in seeing where the teams in the new league will be placed but says there have been preliminary discussions surrounding putting in an application for a team in Swift Current or the southwest region. 

“My prediction for the league is that Saskatoon and Regina will be the backbone of the league and I think you might see some other franchises fluctuating in and out just depending on numbers,” he said. “Sometimes, it could be a hard draw in Swift Current and in the southwest depending on how many kids are around year to year. Some years, you might have a lot that stick around after U18, but other years you might not have many kids, so I think that will be the biggest challenge with that league moving forward, what other centres will be able to consistently, on a year-to-year basis, put together a team. With any league that starts up, there are going to be growing pains and this will be no different than any other league. There’s going to be some growing pains and some learning as they go, but the first impression for me is it’s a real good step for hockey in Saskatchewan.” 

Hockey Sask is expected to announce more details about the new league in January and Pavely says he hopes they can get that information early enough so players at the U18 AAA and AA levels can learn where the teams will be so they can choose where they want to play next season.