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Hockey Alberta restructuring, PWM Steelers in the balance

The PWM Steelers may not be returning to the ice next season. Following an extensive 3-year review of all female hockey programs and age groups, Hockey Alberta recently decided to eliminate some of the teams in the elite divisions across the province, in the hopes of creating better, more competitive programs, and bringing about greater player-development.

With the change, cities throughout Alberta have to put in bids and apply to get elite teams in their centers. Lloydminster’s PWM Steelers have gone through this process and hope to be granted an elite division team in the 2016/2017 season, like their current AA & AAA teams this season.

Katlin Ducherer, Manager of Events and Business Development at Lloydminster Economic Development and Lloydminster Tourism helped the Steelers organization with their application. She facilitated the information and put it into a completed document as well as helped to put together a short video for Hockey Alberta about the importance of the team to the community, especially the Steelers players and their families. Ducherer worked with both Lloydminster Minor Hockey and the elite division to come up with a “really solid application,” as she called it.

“They have a really solid program, as it is…and I went through it with a fine-toothed comb” she jokes.

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“In our application we did see to a few things that could use some improvements and have allocated time and funds to those things that could be improved, which include additional on-ice practice time…they already have a lot of really great player education and personnel coming in to teach [the team] aside from just their head coach and assistant coach,” she says. “They’ve got a lot of different coaches and guest coaches coming in and working with them, and they’ve budgeted to have more of that, more crash training,” Ducherer explains.

The governing body for hockey in Alberta seems to be moving towards to a franchise model for female elite hockey, about which Ducherer says she is unsure whether or not it will make the league more inclusive, but it will break down barriers.

This decision does not only affect Lloydminster though.

According to Kevin Macrae, Senior Manager of Hockey Operations at Hockey Alberta, in 2013 they initiated a review of all female hockey in Alberta and from the skill level they were seeing in the game, mostly at the elite levels, they began questioning whether or not the players were getting the proper skills development from their day-to-day participation.

“[The third party review panel] talked to everybody, all stakeholders in the ‘A’ leagues, MHAs (minor hockey associations), etc., and basically identified that the system wasn’t working for the players that are in the game; it wasn’t providing a development opportunity, for various reasons, some of which were statements made like it was watered down.”

The review had the goal of revamping the female hockey model from grassroots levels all the way up to elite and have it implemented for the ’16/’17 season.

“This is all hockey that we’re looking at,” Macrae clarifies. “There’s a group looking at AAA and AA, which is under the ‘elite’ moniker, and then there’s a group looking at grassroots hockey, which would be your tiered hockey, played in your more local areas .”

One benefit Macrae believes will come from reshaping the league is recruitment for elite teams. Players will no longer be locked into regions known as draw zones, which dictate where and what teams players are allowed to try out for in a given area based on their residence. Thew new model will allow teams to recruit from all over the province for the 6-8 AAA teams Hockey Alberta plans to allow, and for the 10-12 teams predicted for AA.

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Still, a local hockey fan is not a fan of the idea that Lloydminster may not get a team for next season. Rob Trainor has been speaking out on social media about the potential loss of the team and encouraging Lloydminster residents to show their support for girls’ hockey. His idea is to show Hockey Alberta that the Steelers really matter to the community by packing the stands for the rest of their home games this season.

“I plan on going to the rest of their season to show support for the team…because I think [having the team] is crucial to this community. This community is very hockey-oriented, we love hockey here, and not only that but it puts Lloydminster on the map,” says Trainor.

According to a notice on the information bulletin on Hockey Alberta’s website, the final decisions regarding the locations of the teams will be made before the end of January.

Macrae says, “The biggest thing from Hockey Alberta’s perspective all the way through this, seeing the third party review, and even our own review committees, with [MHAs] and people and coaches on that, they’re talking about making the game better for the kids. That’s been the focal point right from day one.”


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