The Brantford Minor Hockey Association wants to capture more youth for additional development before they head off to play junior hockey.
To that end, the minor hockey association is re-doubling its efforts to build a strong major midget AAA program for 16 and 17-year-olds.
“The kids that were drafted out of bantam locally have all moved on to play junior somewhere,” major midget Brantford 99ers coach Dan Culbert said. “We want to be a stepping stone for them. We want them to stick around for another year of development.”
Culbert said it can be advantageous for youth to get an extra development year of minor hockey before they advance to try and achieve something in the junior ranks.
“Junior hockey is a business and a lot of it is about putting butts in the seat,” Culbert said. “Midget minor hockey is about development. The kids will get twice as much practice with us and they can work on that one skill that they were maybe missing.
“The idea is to develop the 16-year-olds at the midget level and have them earn a premiere spot at the Junior B and C level, instead of them leaving the BMHA after bantam and becoming a third or fourth-line player in junior.”
But Culbert admits that the BMHA’s final level of AAA hockey needs some work before it will entice local players to stick around and become better, as opposed to trying their luck somewhere in junior.
“We didn’t have a major midget team a couple of years ago, but it was reinstated by Doug Brown,” Culbert said. “He had a change in work commitment so I came on board to be coach in August.”
Culbert said the major midget program isn’t as strong as he would like it to be in Brantford, but volunteers in the minor hockey community are coming together to change that.
“We are re-initiating a midget hockey committee that was in place years ago,” Culbert said. “That will help develop our program and get it back in line.”
Culbert said other programs, including London, Kitchener and Waterloo, are able to entice players that are drafted by the Ontario Hockey League to stay and play with major midget teams.
“There are 11 players in our loop (of teams) that we play against that were drafted to the OHL,” he said. “It really depends on the strength of the program.”
Just because the program isn’t as strong as it could be, that doesn’t mean the Brantford 99ers team doesn’t have skilled players.
“We have about 80 per cent of our team that have a goal of moving on to playing junior hockey like Junior B or Junior C,” Culbert said. “And we have a couple of kids who have real potential to maybe even move up and play Junior A in a couple years.”
Players on the current roster are also getting plenty of chances to show their quality at the junior level by being listed as an affiliate player to a local junior team. They get called up when the junior club has some injuries or suspensions on its roster.
“All but two of our players are (an affiliate player) to a junior club,” Culbert said. “So they have skills and can play junior hockey. It’s just about finding that balance. The junior teams want the players as soon as they can get them, while we want to hold them for one more year of development.”
The major midget 99ers are affiliated with the St. George Dukes and Simcoe Storm in the Niagara and District Junior Hockey League and the Norfolk Rebels in the Southern Ontario Junior Hockey League. They are also working on an agreement with the Paris Mounties in the NDJHL.