Alberta Hockey

All dressed up and no where to go, or as the Peace County Midget Female AAA Storm are finding out, all ready to play hockey and no team to play on.

The team recently found out that through a decision made by Hockey Alberta, as of next year it will no longer be able to play in the Alberta Major Midget Female Hockey League (AMMFHL). The league is comprised of 10 teams, at least for this season, and is the highest level of hockey in Alberta for girls aged 15-17. Two other teams, the Sherwood Park Fury and PAC Saints, will also be cut if the decision comes to fruition.

Word of the situation first came to light in April 2015 during a Hockey Alberta Board of Directors meeting. The recommendation to reduce the number of teams in the AMMFHL was put forward as the general feeling was that the talent pool had become diluted with so many players. Hockey organizations had to than give presentations highlighting why they should be allowed to keep their franchise.

While the Peace County Storm feels they gave a good presentation, it was ultimately decided they would be one of the teams cut.

Hockey Alberta's reasoning, quoted from a letter sent to Grande Prairie Minor Hockey Association, is "being located within one of the smallest female hockey populated areas within the Province does not make Grande Prairie a viable option for a Midget AAA franchise at this time."

Koen Ryder, head coach of the team as well as President of the Peace County Female Athletic Club (PCFAC), says these reasons are unsubstantiated claims on Hockey Alberta's part.

"Their reasoning is that we are located in one of the smallest female markets for registration, but knowing that other small market teams in our league have struggled to get numbers and field a team, and yet they get awarded a franchise, it's concerning," he said. "We've always had good, competitive teams with great programs all the way from the young kids up to the older girls."

Another reason for the cut, and one Hockey Alberta won't admit says Ryden, is location.

"There's prejudice against the North. There's a very strong feeling from the southern teams that having to travel to Grande Prairie is a huge inconvenience for them," he said. "The North doesn't have any representation at these meetings Hockey Alberta is holding and without that there's no one to fight for our program."

Many parents echoed that sentiment, saying while they were disappointed in the decision they were not surprised.

"I hate to say it but when we were heard of this, I wasn't overly surprised," says Tammy Yaremko, mother of defenceman Tiana Yaremko. "The North always get pushed aside."

Hockey Alberta has come up with an alternative to the current league, proposing Grande Prairie become part of a new league they are setting up called the Elite League. Including both Bantam and Midget aged teams, the league would play one level below the current AAA system, therefore being ranked as AA. While Hockey Alberta maintains that through this league Peace Region hockey will develop and prosper, Ryden is sceptical of that and thinks it will have the opposite effect.

"What Hockey Alberta is telling these kids is 'we don't care about you, we want you to go play lower level hockey,'" he says. "Their only other options are to move or travel to a centre with a team, join an academy or quit."

And for some of the players quitting isn't an option. Rachel Paul, forward and captain of the team has received a scholarship to the University of Calgary next year.

"If it wasn't for this program I wouldn't have a scholarship to university next year," she says. "All the values and lessons our coaches have taught us have made me the person I am today, and by cutting the program it eliminates a lot of future possibilities for girls in our area like the ones I had."

In a twist of irony Grande Prairie will be hosting Provincials later this spring. While first thoughts for both coaches and parents alike was 'why bother,' that feeling shifted to a more positive one in hopes that through Provincials and a good showing they can prove why they deserve to keep the program.

"We're a better centre than this, than just telling them to go away," said Ryden is reference to how they first contemplated saying they would no longer host Provincials. "Nothing would be better than having Peace County and Sherwood Parks or PAC in the finals, three of the teams they're going to cut from the league."

Ryden says they will continue to fight for their program and will take legal action if necessary.

The Grande Prairie AAA Female Storm needs everyone's help to try and get our program to stay in the North.

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The Save our FEMALE AAA STORM program petition to Alberta Hockey was written by Sports Organization and is in the category Sports at GoPetition.