Canada’s Other Hockey Game.
Have you ever heard of the other hockey game played in Canada? Only in this country does it have to specifically be called field hockey. It’s the third-most popular team sport in the world and yes, it’s played year-round in Victoria by men, women and over 400 youth. Both adult men’s and women’s leagues started about the same time, in the late 1950’s. The men formed a league in 1960 with three teams – the University of Victoria Vikings, the Victoria Tigers and the Shawnigan Boys School, who played in exhibition games. In 1969 the men’s league grew to five teams (the Tigers, Red Barons, UVic, Oak Bay Redmen and the Fossils) to officially form the league and join Field Hockey BC as members. In 1970, just one year following, pioneers Craig Wilson and Robin (Forrest) formed the Rebels Sports Club and entered a field hockey team into the men’s league. Since then the league has seen a lot of evolution but still relies on its foundation formed in the late 90’s.
Through the years the league has had its ups and downs with the growth and decline of participating teams but has always maintained a solid base of players to enjoy this fast, highly skilled game. Currently the men’s league, or formally the Vancouver Island Field Hockey Association (VIFHA), has six teams that compete weekly from September to March at the water-based pitch at the University of Victoria.
“VIFHA is a not-for-profit association with the goal of growing and supporting organized men’s field hockey in the Victoria area,” said Mark Baggott, President of VIFHA. “The current league consists of six recreational teams consisting of men between the ages of 14 and 70. Interested players with all experience levels are welcome to come and enjoy the league including competitive and aspiring university level athletes as well as the more experienced and weathered veterans looking for a way to keep fit. Several Canadian national team athletes began their playing careers in Victoria and the league provides a competitive pathway to continue this trend.”
As Baggott referenced, VIFHA has been a pathway for many Canadian National team members throughout the years including current senior development player and Junior World Cup bound Harbir Sidhu, and junior national team member Josh Brown. Sidhu will be heading to India to compete in the Junior World Cup, Dec 8-18, while Brown is a reserve for the squad. The senior men’s national qualified for the recent Rio Olympic Games, finishing 11th overall.
Currently the men’s national team is ranked 12th in the world and the Women’s team is ranked 18th. Just eight years ago the men were ranked as high eighth in the world after a strong performance at the 2008 World Cup. These performances are impressive considering the small amount of exposure and media coverage the sport has in Canada next to other professional sports such as ice hockey, soccer or football.
Field hockey is not a mainstream sport in North America for either gender but particularly for men, outside North America is a different story. Surprisingly, hockey, as it is referred to everywhere other than North America, is the third most participated sport in the world, behind Soccer (football) and Cricket. More Surprisingly ice hockey, baseball, basketball and American football are much further down the list. Of this list, baseball is the highest in popularity, placing seventh, and believe it or not the iconic Canadian sport of ice hockey doesn’t even make the top ten list for most participated sports worldwide.
The men’s league (VIFHA) and the women’s league VILFHA (Vancouver Island Ladies Field Hockey Association) have hosted many test matches with the Canadian national sides for both men and women including a memorable and iconic series between the Canadian men and India. Victoria also hosted a Women’s Olympic Qualifying tournament in 2008 and many Canadian and University National Championships throughout the years. A high percentage of Canadian national team players come from British Columbia due to the proximity of the national teams being based in Vancouver.
Field hockey is a fast paced game between two teams playing with a hard plastic ball, slightly bigger then a tennis ball. B.C. is the only province that can play outdoor hockey year-round because the weather allows it. The season in B.C. is from September to April, while the rest of Canada plays from May to September or are forced to play indoors because of the Canadian winter. There is a home on the field hockey pitch for players of all skill level and all ages. You could take a drive up to UVic any given weekend and have a look at the third most participated sport in the world.
Interested players should visit fieldhockeyvictoria.com to find a home in the men’s, women’s or junior league.