By Tyler Lowey, Times Reporter
Just past the halfway mark of another season for the Strathmore Minor Hockey Association (SMHA) and they have already started planning next year’s season.
The issues at hand the SMHA is trying to quell are the same issues it’s been facing for the past few years – the size of the program.
“At some point we are going to burst at the seams,” said SMHA President Natalie Haslund.
Two years ago, when Haslund took over, the SMHA housed 387 players. Last year, they were up to 455 and currently sit at 487. Next year, Haslund is estimating another 30 kids will join the program, putting them near 510, nearly 32 per cent of an increase over three years.
If the breaking point hasn’t happened yet, it can’t be that far down the road.
These days, there is only enough ice for every team from novice to midget to practice once a week in Strathmore. Teams must travel elsewhere, to Rockyford, Hussar, Standard or Gleichen, to hold their second practice of the week.
“And that’s just minor hockey. That doesn’t even begin to account for the [Strathmore Wheatland] Kings, the double-A’s, ringette teams and figure skating programs,” said Haslund of the 27 teams in the program.
Meanwhile, novice and atom teams have to share the ice surface for their practice.
Rosters will soon be maxed out, too. Meaning there will be less ice time during games and practices for players to handle the puck and develop their skills.
Ideally, the younger teams operate around 13 to 15 players per team. Maxed out rosters would carry 17 skaters plus two goalies per team, making things extremely difficult on the novice and atom teams that already share ice time.
Haslund and the SMHA are still pushing for a new rink and recently met mayor Pat Fule about the issue with the booming population.
“I don’t think he realized how much hockey is growing in our community,” said Haslund. “Just SMHA alone right now has enough teams to support a new arena on their own with a full practice and game schedule.”
Those talks continue, but nothing has been said about the possibility of a new arena.
But one thing a new arena could bring is a Junior A hockey club.
The Calgary Canucks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League held a pair of games in Strathmore towards the end of 2017 as a way to gauge interest. According to the team, attendance numbers did not make it feasible for a team to relocate or expand to Strathmore.
A new arena with seating on both sides could be enough to sway the mind of AJHL commissioner Ryan Bartoshyk, but there needs to be ground broken on a new project before those discussions go any further.
The peewee programs were able to raise funds during the two Canuck games and were looking forward to having them return in the new year.
The SMHA has still been able to raise money through a pair of hosted tournaments this season. The program is saving up for costly rink dividers that will be mandatory for novice programs come the 2019-2020 season.
Tournaments are always a great source of income for the teams involved and the program as a whole.
After seeing Chestermere land the rights for provincial tournaments, Strathmore did not want to make things difficult by creating a log jam for hotel bookings and other nearby ice rentals.
“We will put in a bid for next year and get some big tournaments,” said Haslund. “We’re still in the middle of this season, but we’re already focused on what next year means.”