BURRILLVILLE – With roots going back to the 1950s, the Burrillville Junior Hockey League is among the oldest leagues of its kind in the country, making it a town tradition that has spanned generations.

And even in a year marked by cancellations for most local sports leagues, the town’s young hockey players have skated on, with players and families quickly adapting to new restrictions.

“I think the kids actually got more time on the ice last year,” said Tara Smith, who serves as registrar for the league.

Known as something of an early training ground for players who ultimately go on to join middle and high school teams, BJHL offers a comprehensive co-ed hockey experience for kids ages three to 18. Many players who have their start with the league even go on to play for college teams including Roger Williams, Providence College, URI and Brown University, to name a few.

“The Burrillville Junior Hockey League was formed and organized upon the principal of providing children with amateur hockey development programs which are implemented through skill development and competition,” notes the BJHL website. The league, “strives, through physical & skills training, discipline and team work, to develop young athletes with self-discipline, self-confidence, healthy life styles, and stronger relationships with peers and adults.”

A 501(c)3 non-profit organization run by a dozen-member board of directors, the league operates at the June Rockwell Levy Rink in Harrisville, where all practices and home games are held.

The program was featured on The Public Radio’s One Square Mile in 2015.

“Hockey runs deep in Burrillville,” noted the broadcast. “In this town of 15,000, residents have an almost religious devotion to hockey.”

It seems that even a worldwide pandemic can not stop local youth from hitting the ice. Smith said that while some things were different in 2020 – players were assigned teams instead of holding the annual tryouts, and mask wearing became the standard – most of the season went off without a hitch.

“Our season really wasn’t affected much,” she said. “Everyone has grown accustomed to these changes. The kids don’t complain at all. It’s been great.”  .

As tryout time again approaches, Smith said the league is gearing up for another great season.

BJHL players compete against teams throughout Rhode Island and Massachusetts in several divisions. Players get an average of more than four hours of ice time per week with practices, skills sessions and a season of 25-40 games, depending upon division.

Divisions range from Learn to Skate/Learn to Play through Midgets, and children from throughout Rhode Island and Massachusetts are welcome. And with seven regular divisions plus three more in an elite league run through BJHL known as the Rhode Island Hitmen, there’s a right space for nearly every child who wants to play.

Smith noted that there’s no limit on the number of players and practices begin the last week in August. The league also provides goalie skills training through the Rhode Island Hockey Academy.

“Everyone is allowed to try out and teams are chosen on an evaluation scale,” said Smith.

Tryout registration costs $50 and includes a warmup jersey. The tryouts will take place from Monday, March 29 through Friday, April 2 depending on division – and will be held at Levy Rink, of course.  Players and parents can learn more and register at https://www.bjhl.org/tryouts.

The BJHL coaching staff is USA Hockey certified – including one coach, Smith’s brother Randy Hopkins, who has been with the league for nearly 30 years.

But Smith said that the group is also always accepting applications from new potential coaches – and those who take on the role can receive a discount on registration for their child. An application and more information for coaches is available here.

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