MIDWESTERN ONTARIO – We are all anticipating the return of hockey and the start of an exciting new hockey season. As we plan for a 2021-22 activity schedule that feels like a return to normal, the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) is introducing some great new programming changes that will make organized hockey an even better experience for players and their families.
Over the course of the pandemic, the OMHA has been studying how to make hockey more welcoming to new players and looking at ways to keep our experienced players in the game for life.
Some of the changes made include:
- Increasing focus on the mental well-being of players. By allowing more prep time before tryouts, the season start-up will be less stressful for everyone;
- Scheduling seasonal breaks in December and March. This makes it easier for families to spend time relaxing together over the holidays;
- Ensuring a longer, more meaningful season for all players. The new format and playoff structure keep everyone playing right up to March.
In addition to these new elements, the OMHA has adopted Hockey Canada’s development model known as “Player Pathways.” This takes players through five phases during the season, from their first steps onto the ice right to the last buzzer of the championships.
Reconnecting with Our Love of the Game (Preparation Phase)
During the preparation phase, likely in early September, players can participate in warm-up skates hosted by local associations and scheduled to begin just around the time school is starting up. This means kids will be able to meet their friends again, both on and off the ice, find their skating legs, and feel that exhilarating rush of wind on their face. With a concern for kids’ mental health top of mind, the OMHA wants to give everyone a chance to get back onto the ice in a stress-free way, rather than in formal tryouts or an evaluation setting.
The earliest start date for OMHA-sanctioned programming is Tuesday, Sept. 7.
Assessing Players’ Skill Levels to Provide Optimal Experience (Evaluation Phase)
For players at the U8 level and below, this is the time when coaches will assess each player’s skill level. By placing players in groups of similar skill level, we help make sure each child has the best possible development experience during the hockey season.
Players at the U9 level and above will have the opportunity to try out for representative (“rep”) programming.
U9 AND U11
AAA tryouts: Monday, Sept. 13
AA tryouts: Monday, Sept. 20
A & below tryouts: Monday, Sept. 27
U12 AND ABOVE
AAA tryouts: Friday, Sept. 10
AA tryouts: Friday, Sept. 17
A & below tryouts: Friday, Sept. 24
Sharpening Skills and Skates (Development Phase)
Once evaluation has been done, players move into the development phase. This includes working on skills and team-building exercises. These activities are designed to help players gain self-confidence before they begin regular season play. This phase runs for at least seven days after evaluation – before the season starts – so players have a chance to practice on-ice skills, and settle in and feel comfortable with their teams and coaches.
The Puck Drops and an Exciting New Season Begins (Regular Season Phase)
As players go through the development phase, they start to get excited about the regular season. Each league sets the details of this phase for itself, including number of games, season schedule, and the way its playoffs will run. Always working to make hockey even better for families, the OMHA has scheduled seasonal breaks periods for the December holidays and the March Break. There will be no league play during these times. Teams may choose to offer skill development, or participate in jamborees or tournaments, but these are optional. This welcome change will allow families to plan other activities during these school breaks.
Tournaments may begin as early as Friday, Oct. 8.
An Exciting Finish (Playoff Phase)
The end of season phase offers some of the most important benefits of the new OMHA model. The traditional playoff format has been changed to make sure we keep players on the ice until March 1. It’s a longer regular season, keeping kids active and involved, with no chance of elimination in February.
Each league will begin playoffs in March. This means extended meaningful competition, with well-matched teams playing together. This format also replaces elimination-style series and reduces the need for families to travel for games.
As league playoffs wrap up, teams earn spots in the OMHA Championship Weekends. These exciting and action-packed weekends are scheduled for March 25-27, April 1-3 and April 8-10.