BURRILLVILLE – It’s a league open to all young players, from three-year-old Burrillville boys in the learn-to-skate program, to 19-year-old female hockey enthusiasts hailing from Massachusetts and Connecticut.
And in 2022, the Burrillville Junior Hockey League hopes to further expand its reach, with a new girls U-19 Midget division.
One of the oldest leagues of its kind in the country with roots going back to the 1950s, BJHL is considered an early training ground for players who ultimately go on to join middle and high school teams, offering a comprehensive co-ed hockey experience for kids ages three to 18.
Registrar Tara Hopkins Smith noted that currently, the league serves roughly 185 players. Divisions are divided into A, B and C levels, with 15 players per team, so organizers are actively recruiting from neighboring towns to fill out the roster.
“We reaching out now to build are numbers out,” said Troy Phillips, parent-at-large. “That way, no matter what age kids are when they start, we have a place for them too.”
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. Kids compete against teams throughout Rhode Island and Massachusetts in several divisions, and 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.
For the new all girls midget division, open to players ages 15-19, Phillips noted that BJHL will offer a half season, with just one game and one practice per week, from September to Thanksgiving, when the high school hockey program begins.
“It’s just to keep them on the ice, and keep their legs moving,” Phillips said. “Most of them play at high school.”
Part of a long-standing tradition in Burrillville, the league is where Phillips’ son, who is now in college, got his start, and parent-at-large’s daughter will be among those who take to the ice with the new midget division.
“I don’t think they have a lot of opportunity,” he said of female players. “Most of the leagues are geared toward boys.”
All other divisions in the BJHL, from Mites to the Bantam teams, are co-ed. Three to five-year-olds start out in the Learn to Skate program.
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.
One of the few sports leagues kept alive all the way through the pandemic, BJHL welcomes players from several neighboring communities in Rhode Island, as well as those from the neighboring states of Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Tryouts for the league begin Monday, March 14 at Levy Rink and cost $50, including a warmup jersey.
Practices with the USA Hockey certified coaching staff begin during the last week in August, and games start just after Labor Day. Burrillville’s junior league is a member of the South Coast Hockey League – along with teams including the Providence Bears, Warwick Junior Hockey League, NRI and SRI groups, and players from Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and Fall River.
“Those are a lot of the teams that we play against,” Phillips said.
League President Mark Palmer reached out to each of those programs in hopes more high school girls will want to play spring hockey, and Phillips noted that if not enough ladies join the new division, the league will still offer scrimmages.
“We have to see what we get for numbers,” Phillips said. “This year we’re just trying to get our toes wet.”
Players and parents can learn more and register at https://www.bjhl.org/tryouts.
Editor’s note: The above article was edited to accurately reflect the number of players in the league this year after it was provided by the registrar.