Tia Arseneault poses on the ice for her picture as a volunteer for the South Island Ravens hockey team. (Photo contributed)

Tia Arseneault poses on the ice for her picture as a volunteer for the South Island Ravens hockey team. (Photo contributed)

Hockey allows Grade 12 student to keep playing sports

Tia Arseneault fell in love with the sport and hopes others will play

The West Shore has support from B.C. Hockey to take steps to help grow the sport, and encourage more youth to play.

Grade 12 Belmont Secondary student Tia Arseneault decided she wanted to start playing hockey in 2016. She swam and played lacrosse for four years, but was forced to quit because of a hereditary medical condition called myopia, (without her glasses she is legally blind).

Trying to see a white ball with the glare of the lights in field lacrosse was too hard, but she wanted to try hockey for a number of reasons. She grew up watching and admiring her dad play hockey, she and her younger brothers want to start their own recreation hockey league one day and she wanted to be able to play both of Canada’s national sports.

Arseneault had skated a few times in her life, but her skill level was “hold onto the boards and push myself along,” she said. To get her skating up to snuff she took lessons from 2016 to 2017 at Pearkes Recreateion Centre and took lessons once a week with former Ice Capades skater Mena Westhaver.

She started playing hockey in the fall of 2017 on the girls’ midget Grizzlies team. The thought of joining a hockey team where some of the girls probably had a good 10-year head-start was a bit daunting, Arseneault said.

But any hestiation was gone after the first practice. The experience with the team was different than any other sport she tried and she quickly began to look forward to practice.

“Everyone on the team would put practice on hold, and help me to be a contributing member of the team. So they were helpful right from the get-go,” she said.

Arseneault has improved her skills on the ice – she can do crossovers, skate backwards, her passing has improved, and she has made some new friendships. Plus the contrast of the white ice and black puck makes it easier to see what she’s doing.

Arseneault is hoping to get surgery to fix her myopia, but still wants to stick with hockey.

“Being on the ice and the feeling of going from one end of the rink to another, or chasing a puck and passing and shooting, being on the ice is a cool feeling and I really like it,” she said, adding she also volunteers with the South Island Ravens hockey team that both of her brothers play on.

She hopes her experience will encourage other girls to try the sport. She wants to continue playing with the Grizzlies next year as an over-age player.

Dave Saunders, coach of the Juan de Fuca Grizzlies, is excited about recruiting more girls for hockey. The method involves players recruiting younger peers, and encouraging them to get involved in the sport. He said that Cowichan teacher and hockey coach, Mike Moroz, uses this model to grow girls hockey in Cowichan and has been very effective.

This is the first year that the Ross Cup allowed both female and male high school and minor hockey players to participate. Moroz received approval from B.C. Hockey to include girls teams in the tournament that used to be only for boys, and if girls wanted to play they had to play on a boys team. Moroz considered it a huge success, with five girls teams entered in the tourney, three from the minor hockey association and two high school teams.

Saunders said his JDF Grizzlies team had a great time and players were exposed to teams that they don’t see all the time.

The Ross Cup was Arseneault’s first hockey tournament.

B.C. Hockey CEO Barry Petrachenko hopes to expand girls hockey by giving them opportunities for more ice time across the province.

“Many of our associations are focusing their recruitment efforts on female hockey through programs like the First Shift,” Petrachenko said.

“We have a dedicated group of people across the province who are working hard to grow the female game. Our biggest role at this point is to connect this network through the sharing of best practices around their efforts and this is just the latest example of the momentum we are building in the female game.”

Before she decided she was going to play hockey, Arseneault was in a reversed role, teaching swimming to people who didn’t know how to swim, some who didn’t even own a bathing suit, she said. She is a lifeguard and swim instructor, and participated in the Youth Ambassador program, a national program for high school students to learn leadership skills and create a community service project. She was selected for this program, along with three other fellow students in 2016. She decided to provided swimming lessons to kids who otherwise wouldn’t have access to the opportunity.

She started a swim team at Belmont high school and gave lessons once a week and at the end of the season gave anyone who wanted to the opportunity to compete in a swim meet. It was so popular that the second year she had people come and ask when the swim team was starting up again.

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