The Scarborough Mirror had a story about the hockey league in 1965 when it was called the West Hill-Highland Creek Lions.
By Mark Campbell
Our little corner of the city has a long history of minor hockey and the West Hill Golden Hawks (originally the West Hill-Highland Creek Lions) are a major part of that. In fact, when the league started playing in 1953 the rinks at Heron Park were outdoors and were not covered until 1969.
Kevin Mercer, the league’s current General Manager of House League, has been affiliated with the Golden Hawks for many of those years. He started in 1963 as a player, began timekeeping and refereeing in 1968, before turning to coaching in 1976. He still coaches in the Minor Atom division (9 years old).
Remembering the early years, he recalls that they used to charge parents admission to watch games. “They paid to come into the rink, and then were put to work,” he says. “They would have to shovel the rink because there was no Zamboni!”
A lot has changed over those years and enrolment in hockey is down. “Team sports in general, everything is down. It doesn’t compare to what it was 20 years ago.” Mercer cites competing sports and other organized activities as one reason. “Prior to amalgamation there were 10 hockey leagues in Scarborough. Now there’s two.”
Despite enrolment numbers, kids are getting into hockey younger today. West Hill runs a program called Hawks Nest, which is an introduction to hockey. “Our expectation when kids sign up for Hawks Nest is that they haven’t been on ice before,” he says. In Hawks Nest, kids are first taught basic skills: standing up, walking, gliding, and eventually skating. All before they see the puck – but it’s done in full hockey equipment with kids as young as 3.
In the older divisions, while age is used as a guideline, placement is based on skill. A kid who is new to hockey will be placed in a division that is geared towards his or her skill level. “They touch the puck, they enjoy the game, they build their confidence, they have a lot more fun, and they stay with us longer,” he adds. “Your goal as a house league coach is to make sure that every kid you coached that year comes back and plays the following year.”
West Hill is co-ed and encourages both boys and girls to compete together for as long as possible. There are 800 kids in house league, making up 64 teams.
Mercer was coy about name-dropping but conceded that over the years there have been about 50 players in the NHL who got their start in hockey at West Hill.
When asked about risks to minor hockey, Mercer was blunt: “The press is the number one concern. Any time you look in the paper and it’s something about minor hockey, it’s usually bad news.” Crazy hockey parents, fights, and concussions are the usual subjects. He wishes “they
start promoting the good news. The 99 percent of the time that good things happen. Kids [come off the ice] sweaty, hot, and smiling, but that doesn’t sell papers.”
Mercer’s final thought about hockey: “It’s got to be positive. You win with class; you lose with class.”
For more information please visit whmha.org.