City Hall is killing women’s hockey, player says

Pam Wright

Female hockey players are getting short shrift in Sarnia because the ice time the city makes available to women is insufficient and inconvenient, a long-time player says.

“I want adult women’s hockey to remain viable here,” said Bernadette Slotwinski, who is deeply concerned the women’s league will continue to decline and die unless changes are made soon.

The Progressive Auto Sales Arena, which is operated by the city, has been the home of the Lambton Ladies’ League for two decades. The league never had a problem until City Hall closed Germain Arena in 2015 and divided ice time between the remaining arenas, Slotwinski said.

Since then, preferential treatment has been given to elite minor hockey at the expense of recreational leagues, she said.

Slotwinski agrees children should get priority for ice time, but under the city’s “flawed” system subsidies go to youth teams in which a large percentage of players are from outside Sarnia.

In the top four age groups, 66% of players come from families who don’t live or pay taxes in the city, she said.

On the Midget team — the most important because it’s their draft year — only four of 18 players call Sarnia home.

Slotwinski said she’s not against elite hockey and understands that “coaches want to win.” But she questions why young players who don’t live here are being subsidized at the expense of adult women teams who can’t get good ice time.

Rob Harwood, Sarnia’s director of parks and recreation, admits the closure of Germain impacted users and that concessions had to be made.

But the decision was a cost effective measure recommended in the city’s 2015 Arena Management Study, he said.

Demographics and Sarnia’s aging infrastructure were major factors, with the study finding the number of youth aged five to 19 had declined 22% from 1996 to 2011.

Sarnia has had a ‘AAA’ minor hockey system since the 1994 when the Ciccarelli brothers brought the Ontario Hockey League Sting to the city.

Other leagues have been forced to rejig their schedules and “move to later times,” Harwood acknowledged.

The decision to give youth priority was made after consulting many user groups, he added.

The city offered the ladies’ league ice time as late as 10:30 p.m., and doesn’t work for women with young families, Slotwinski said.

“Working moms aren’t able to play on Friday night at 9 p.m.,” she said, noting female hockey players who “age out” at 18 just stop playing.

The ladies’ adult league has declined from 16 to 11 teams since the switch, and if the league folds outright City Hall will have caused its demise in a self-fulfilling prophesy, she said.

“Then they will say, ‘we didn’t need them anyway,’” she added. “It will be the city itself that ruined the league.”