By Tyler Lowey, Times Reporter
It was a tough act to follow this year. The 26th anniversary of the Wheatland Athletic Association (WAA) doesn’t have the same ring to it, but the teams are still cruising along at contender speed.
Last season, the 25th season for the WAA, was a banner year. A milestone year in the franchise history was achieved and the midget Chiefs captured the first provincial title for the organization.
“It was a pretty special way to wrap up the year with the midgets winning the title. We have won several league titles, but never one like that going all the way,” said new WAA President Doug Thurston.
The Chiefs were the best team in the province by a mile last season, finishing 31-3-2, en route to the South Central Alberta Hockey League and provincial title. They also boasted three of the Top 5 scorers in the league (Isaac Benoit, Chayse Hnatowich and Riley Romashenko) and the league’s top goaltender (Ty Tarvyd). All four players have moved on to different teams and different leagues.
Only 10 of the 22 members from last year’s juggernaut team returned, but the Chiefs still find themselves atop the league standings. Currently at 15-7-2, they are eight points behind the Lethbridge Hurricanes and have played them strong this year, going 1-1-1 against the division leaders.
The bantam Warriors finished in the bottom half of the South Division last season at 12-21-5. Despite also losing players to the Alberta Minor Midget Hockey League and Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League, they continue to be competitive and are on track to surpass last year’s mark, as they sit 8-12-2 through 22 games.
The peewee Braves were the talk of the league with their six-game win streak that highlighted a strong start. They hit a bit of a rough patch around the holiday season, but they have already surpassed last year’s record of 10-22-5 with eight games remaining.
Strong hockey wasn’t the only thing celebrated last year. The organization also took the time to hold a 3-on-3 alumni tournament, welcoming players from the past back into the program for a fun weekend of reliving the glory days.
“The alumni event was a ton of fun. We would love to do it again, but we don’t want to burn out the idea,” said Thurston. “We’re looking at the 30th year anniversary for another one.”
Something new the program had to juggle with this season was the ice plant repairs at the Strathmore Family Centre. The repairs lasted longer than anticipated, which forced all three programs to do their tryout camps elsewhere, ranging from Indus to Drumheller.
“It was very difficult on our ice coordinator, but at the same time, it was a good way to show off the program,” said Thurston. “We were able to draw a couple more kids out because of it. We might do it again next year because of that.”
The WAA will not be hosting any tournaments this season. Strathmore is already home to other hockey tournaments during the same time frame as the SCAHL playoff tournaments. As a result, Strathmore’s name will go back into the mix and higher up the list of towns that can host playoff tournament next season, during the organization’s 27th year.