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Nova Scotia hockey leagues not open to letting King's-Edgehill in

King's-Edgehill defenceman Nick Dyson handles the puck during a prep school hockey game. (CONTRIBUTED/King's-Edgehill School)
King's-Edgehill defenceman Nick Dyson handles the puck during a prep school hockey game. - Contributed - King's-Edgehill School

All Ryan Hillier wants is a place for his school's kids to play hockey this season.

Hillier is the head coach of the boys' team and assistant director of hockey operations at King's-Edgehill School in Windsor. The private school's teams usually play their games against other prep schools outside of Nova Scotia. But because of COVID-19 restrictions, they obviously can't travel beyond Atlantic Canada for the foreseeable future. That only leaves Rothesay-Netherwood in New Brunswick and Mount Academy in P.E.I. as possible opponents for the whole season.

So with most of King's-Edgehill's usual options out of the question, Hillier tried to find games locally for this season, but the province's top minor leagues will not let the school in or even agree to exhibition games. The Nova Scotia under-18 boys' league - formerly the N.S. major midget league - is particularly opposed to it.

"It's very frustrating," Hillier said. "We have a Hockey Canada accreditation which allows us to play midget AAA and stuff like that. It took a while to get that and we paid a fee for it, but at this point it isn't doing us any good.

"We've presented so many different scenarios like we won't play playoffs or we'll come to you or we'll foot the bills, but nothing's worked. It's tough because these kids just want to play hockey."

More than a decade ago, the metro high school league froze out King's-Edgehill because they were winning too much and many other schools felt they had an unfair advantage because they weren't limited to drawing from one geographic region. Hillier said that perspective is at play with the under-18 league this time around as well, but he was still hopeful there woud be more open-mindedness since this is only a one-year request necessitated by the unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic.

"Back in August, we figured the borders would stay closed so what I did was I inquired with Hockey Nova Scotia and the midget league about how we could apply for a spot," said Hillier, who played for the Halifax Mooseheads from 2004 to 2008 before three pro seasons and two years with the Saint Mary's Huskies.

"What they did is they held a vote with all the (team) presidents and it initially just came back as a 'No.' But nobody told me about it so it took me until the end of September to get an answer that it was a 'No,' so that was frustrating. I also didn't hear back what the reason behind it was, so I've reached out to each president to try to find out why and what we can do to allow us for this year, essentially, to be able to join the league.

"I asked if they could come up with some rules on recruitment or anything else and we'll follow them. Or do you want us to pay a league fee? Just name whatever you want. But the main thing I heard back from the presidents is there was too much bad blood with prep schools and stealing players, stuff like that. In my mind, that's not right."

Ryan Hillier played four seasons for the Halifax Mooseheads before turning pro in 2008. (CONTRIBUTED)
Ryan Hillier played four seasons for the Halifax Mooseheads before turning pro in 2008. (CONTRIBUTED)

From the under-18 league's standpoint, president Jan Isenor said there is a four-year moratorium in place on new teams joining and he also confirmed there was no interest from anyone in the circuit to make a one-year exception or allow exhibition games under any circumstances.

"Our league consists of all Nova Scotia-born players and we have no overagers (players who are 18 before Jan. 1), whereas King's-Edgehill has players from all over," Isenor said. "Now they don't have any Europeans this year but they do have some overagers, so basically they would not fit into our rules and regulations that are set in our policy manual."

"We will not welcome it," Isenor added. "I've talked to all of our team presidents/governors and, no, they do not want them in our league."

Hillier conceded three of his players were just on the wrong side of the age deadline because they have November birthdates. But he also made the case that 18 of the 21 kids on his boys' team are Nova Scotians and the three others are Atlantic Canadians. He also pointed out how there might only be one player in his program who would even be considered for a spot on one of the under-18 league's eight teams.

"The rest are guys that weren't invited to camp by any midget teams," said Hillier, who once played for the Dartmouth Subways in Nova Scotia's top midget league. "We're an academic school first and our tuition is more than three times what it costs to play midget hockey. There are no free rides at King's-Edgehill ... so we're not stealing their top players.

"I tried to work that angle but didn't get anywhere, and then I tried to go through Hockey Nova Scotia, but that didn't work either."

Hillier did say he is making moderate progress for the KES girls' team. The administrators in the Nova Scotia Female Midget Hockey League haven't said yes to his request to join for 2020-21 but there is a glimmer of hope. Three of the four teams in the league have kept the door open for possible exhibition games.

"We're still working on that so we're at least making a little bit of headway there," Hillier said.

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