Keith Sullivan knew nothing about ringette when he started coaching the sport 28 or 29 years ago.
A friend, Phil Rolls, asked him that year to take over the Prince George junior rep team as a mid-season replacement coach. At the time, Sullivan's daughter Cindy was a novice-aged player playing with an older group on the petite team and despite his own lack of experience, Keith couldn't say no.
"Phil phoned me one day to tell me he was firing the coach and wanted me to take it over," said Sullivan. "I told him I knew nothing about ringette, and he said, 'If you don't, the kids are gone,' and away I went from there.
"It's been good. It's just lots of fun, not so much on the ice but off the ice. You see the kids start out as bunnies and five years from now you look at them and say, 'Wow.'"
As the longest-serving ringette coach in the city, Sullivan, 63., plans to stick around for at least two more seasons, including the one that just began. He wants to stay involved to share his knowledge of the game with his granddaughters, Abbey Lank, 11, and her eight-year-old sister Brooklyn, who play for the U-12 and U-10 teams in Prince George.
"I said once before, another two years [before he leaves the game], but it will be after the Canada Winter Games," said Sullivan. "We're getting new people [to volunteer as coaches], you just have to wean them along. Ringette is not like hockey, the parents don't stay when their kids leave, there are just a few of us."
This year, player registration in the Prince George Ringette Association is up to 135, about 15 more than last season. There are three teams in bunnies (under-8), and enough players for two teams in each of the novice, petite, tween divisions and one 17-player junior team. While ringette is traditionally dominated by female players, Sullivan has four boys on his tween house league team and knows of several boys skating with the girls in the other age groups.
Sullivan, who also coaches a house league tween team in the Northern Ringette League, will get a chance to see north central B.C.'s top under-14 players combine forces in an exhibition game against the U-16 team this Saturday at 1:15 p.m. at CN Centre. The two-hour game follows a 90-minute fitness testing session which starts at 10 a.m. at Lac des Bois elementary school (4131 Rainbow Dr.).
The tryout is open to players born between Jan. 1, 2000 and Dec. 31, 2001.
"It's a developmental group and last year we didn't win a game but the kids took great strides," said Sullivan. "Most of them were first-year players, only 12 years old. I think I only lost three 13-year-olds from last year, most of them are coming back, so it should be a stronger team."
The Team North U-14s will play in at least two out-of-town tournaments in Richmond (Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 2014), and either Calgary or Lacombe., Alta., in December, leading up to the Western Canadian championships in Winnipeg, March 26-29, 2014. Sullivan took a combined Northern B.C/Okanagan team to last year's Western Canadian championship in Regina.
He's hoping to arrange a mini-tournament for his rep team with teams from the Lower Mainland and the Okanagan sometime this winter in 100 Mile House. The U-14s will also play in the B.C. Winter Games in Mission/Langley, Feb. 20-23.
The U-14 players are also part of the Northern house league, which includes Prince George, Quesnel, Houston and Terrace. Each of those cities will stage its own tournament this season. The Joy Hoffman Memorial tournament in Prince George is set for Nov. 8-10. Terrace will host the season-opener Oct. 18-20.
Sullivan's team will likely be too young to place any players on Team B.C. for the 2015 Canada Winter Games in Prince George but there are two strong candidates for that U-20 team -- Justine Lamonte, 18, and Zania Pickering, 16 -- who are on for the open division rep team in Prince George coached by Brian and Madeleine Crandell.
For more information go to pgringette.ca.