What is "Balancing"?

Balancing is a term used across team sports to describe the process of creating competitive teams within a division of competition. For Vancouver Thunderbirds Hockey, this refers to the process we employ to ensure our teams have comparable skill levels in comparison to other teams in their age division.

Why does Vancouver Thunderbirds Hockey balance our recreational teams?

As members of the Pacific Coast Amateur Hockey Association (PCAHA), we are mandated to have balanced teams in the recreational division. For more information on this PCAHA rule, click here and read Section B.1.b.

What is the process?

In Spring 2018, a Balancing Process Task Group was formed to create a Thunderbird approach to balancing. They held a number of engagement meetings with coaches and division ambassadors and worked with these primary volunteers over a period of two months to develop a new, consistent approach to balancing all recreational teams within the association. Each season a full debrief is held and adjustments are made to ensure the best process and experience for our players.

If you are a participant, please be sure to regularly check the Participant Information Page as that will be where all schedules and group assignments will be posted throughout the process.

Stage 1: Assessment of New Players and Goaltenders

Any new player to Thunderbirds registered for the recreational division will be asked to join an assessment skate in order to allow the divisional head coaches to gain a familiarity with them prior to their initial placement. This assessment will occur during the first week of September and information on the session will be sent directly to those new players. Note: any new players participating in the rep tryouts will be assessed there and the information gathered through that process will be utilized for any players assigned to the recreational division.

Stage 2: Initial Placement 

Based upon the ratings submitted by the coaching staffs from the previous season along with the new player assessments, initial balanced groups will be formed under the leadership of Mike Todd (Director of Player and Coach Development - Recreational). Note that the head coaches are not part of assigning players nor are they assigned to a specific "team" at this point and will work collaboratively to focus on the overall balance of each division. This is called a double blind draft as the coaches are not selecting their team but rather will assist in the creation of all teams without knowing which one will end up being under their leadership until the final stage. The coaches do not have control over which team they will ultimately get (random draw from a hat) so it is in their best interest to make sure the teams are balanced. Each group will include a mix of first and second year players, forwards and defense, and a range of experience and skills as well as being aware of parent volunteer roles such as Team Manager and HCSP personnel being spread across the teams. Note that these groups are not final teams and movement will occur. Goaltenders will be assigned out on a rotational basis initially.

Stage 3: Scrimmage Round #1

All groups will enter into the first round of internal balancing scrimmages. Each division will be allocated one or two blocks of time in Week 1 to allow for a series of short scrimmages (approximately 40 minutes of scrimmage time with line changes controlled by 60 second buzzers). Each balancing group will participate in two scrimmages during their division's schedule. Head Coaches will be evaluating from the stands while assistant coaches and other parents as necessary will be asked to act as gate openers (opposite bench of their child), time keepers, game officials, HCSP personnel and to ensure the Dressing Room and Two Deep Policy is followed at all times during the sessions.

At the conclusion of all scrimmages, the head coaches and Division Ambassadors will meet for a short time to review the balance of the initial groups and make changes as required. New rosters and the schedule for the next weekend will be posted on the website as soon as possible.

Note that once final assignments to recreational from the rep tryouts are completed, they are added into the process.

Stage 4: Scrimmage Round #2

Another round of scrimmages following the same concept as the previous weekend will take place in Week 2. The head coaches and division ambassadors will meet again to make another round of adjustments.

Stage 5: Thunderbird Balancing Jamboree

For the following days leading up to the Thanksgiving weekend, groups will be scheduled to participate in a number of games and practices. Please note that movement may still occur and these are still not the final teams, but as we want each player to maximize the amount of skill development they can receive in the season, the environment begins to feel much more team like at this stage. Partway through this stage, and balance is agreed upon across all balancing groups, head coaches will randomly draw for their assignment. At this time, they will need to conduct "trades" to ensure their child is moved to the group they have been assigned to and to allow for each coach to have the ability to request one staff person to join their group (eg assistant coach, team manager, or HCSP).

At the conclusion of this stage, the head coaches and division ambassadors will meet to discuss any potential changes that may be required before entering the next stage.

Stage 6: PCAHA Balancing Games

Typically, PCAHA balancing begins after Thanksgiving and lasts at least a month.  During this time, PCAHA randomly places teams into balancing groups with teams from other PCAHA associations. At this point, balancing groups will be considered preliminary teams. They will wear association jerseys and play games against teams from other associations.

During this stage, PCAHA carefully monitors all teams. If PCAHA deems that a team is struggling or too strong compared to other teams in their association, they will mandate player movement. All efforts will be made in Stages 1-5 of our internal balancing process to avoid this type of late PCAHA-mandated player movement however playing against other associations sometimes shows elements that are not seen within an internal process especially in an association as large as Thunderbirds with many teams in each division.

PCAHA reviews the balancing mid-November and can ask for player movement up until the end of November. Following PCAHA balancing and once any required PCAHA movement is complete, PCAHA will deem the division ‘balanced’ and teams will be considered final and the regular season will commence.


Player movement

Player movement is to be expected throughout the balancing process.  Please be patient with the process and be open to the possibility that your child may be asked to move from one group to another or even from one team to another.  While we will make every effort to minimize player movement, moves are sometimes necessary in order to achieve balance.

Attendance is by far the biggest factor in balancing.  It is impossible to balance teams where players are absent. Parents can help the balancing process immensely by doing the following ensuring their players attend all of the balancing games and PCAHA placement games.

Division ambassadors will email parents if their son or daughter is being asked to move from one group to another. If parents receive this email, we ask that they be as understanding as possible that the move is being made with as much care and consideration as possible. Once a decision has been made to move a player, it is not possible to reverse this decision.

Parents can support the transition to their player’s new team by offering encouragement. Players will not lose any friendships made with their previous group and will have opportunities to make new friendships with their new group. Ultimately, a parents’ attitude is the biggest factor in a player’s ability to make a smooth transition to a new team and have a positive experience.


Number of Goaltenders

Goaltenders should expect to share goaltending duties with another goaltender once they are placed on a team for the season. Some teams may only have one goaltender and if any family does not believe they can commit to being at every game, please inform the Division Ambassador as early in the process as you can so they can note the wish to be on a team with two.


Schedules & Groups

Information related to schedules will be posted on the Vancouver Thunderbirds Hockey website on the Recreational participant information page.


Regular Season and Play-offs

Once PCAHA balancing is complete, PCAHA will create the regular season playing groups and the regular season will begin. Your team will be placed in the group that PCAHA feels best matches your team’s playing ability. The regular season continues until the end of January. Following the regular season, PCAHA creates play-off groups. The play-off format is a round-robin with the top two finishers qualifying to play for the banner.