The Highland Storm is readying for a season of change with a massive overhaul to the novice program coming into effect.

Hockey Canada is directing a shift to novice play across the country, with players moving to half-ice games, accompanied by a host of other rule changes. The changes aim to improve young player development. Highland Storm Ontario Minor Hockey Association representative Amanda Manning said her organization is embracing the changes.

“We’re taking it on,” Manning said. “We’ve had to adapt because there’s been a lot of changes.”

Gone is the tyke category, with young players now split into minor novice and major novice. For much of the season, scores will not be kept. Other elements like face-offs and offsides are also getting removed.

According to a Hockey Canada development guide, the changes should engage players more, with half-ice resulting in twice as many puck-touches, twice as many pass attempts and six times as many shot attempts.

“Parents and coaches need to think longterm and not worry too much about children being the best player on the ice in initiation and novice hockey,” the Hockey Canada guide states.

“Putting young players into a competitive environment too early will compromise their development.”

In the middle of the year in January, major novice players will transition to full-ice and scored games. Manning said with change, there are always growing pains.

“It’s difficult for parents to understand the point of it at times,” Manning said. “A lot of parents would prefer their kids be full-ice hockey, but the research is there and it says the kids get more puck touches, they learn better stick handling. All of those things are important in hockey development.”

Arena reconstruction poses challenges

The Storm is also navigating without the S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena in Minden.

Workers demolished the arena May 1 and its replacement will not be ready for this hockey season. Manning said schedulers are planning the season using Haliburton and Wilberforce, but the season is going to be different.

“Everybody is, I think, understanding it’s probably going to be a trickier season and we’ll have to make some sacrifices,” Manning said. “But the ice is there so we’ll be playing.”

She also attributed a decrease in this year’s registrations so far to the lack of a Minden rink. But despite that, she expects the organization will still ice a similar number of teams across all categories.

“It’s challenging for some parents, the thought of driving,” Manning said. “Our registration numbers are a little bit lower than what they typically are. But everybody is still here, ready to play hockey so we encourage parents to come out and sign them up.”

Tryouts begin the first week of September. Registration and a full overview of novice changes are available through highlandstorm.org.

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