Facts and Figures

Implementation Process Underway For New Female Hockey Model

RED DEER – The implementation process is underway to restructure the operational model for Female Hockey at all levels in Alberta.

When complete, Hockey Alberta’s new Female Hockey Model will provide a standardized, province-wide pyramid system of hockey and the opportunity for female players to develop and progress from a strong foundation of Grassroots programming through to the Elite and Midget AAA levels and into Team Alberta’s high performance programs.

The first step in the implementation process for the new Female Hockey Model is announcing six communities selected by Hockey Alberta to host Midget AAA franchises. The communities are Calgary, Edmonton, Lloydminster, Okotoks, Red Deer and St. Albert.

The six communities selected to host Midget AAA franchises were chosen based on a comprehensive process that included a review of regional demographics for female hockey, and an application, interview, and in-person presentation process coordinated by an Elite Female implementation committee. There will be no defined boundaries for Midget AAA teams, with players able to choose the team for which they wish to try out.

In addition to hosting AAA franchises, the six centres will host Midget Elite and Bantam Elite teams. The Midget and Bantam Elite divisions each will have 12 teams. These teams will be located strategically in communities across northern, central and southern Alberta to ensure players have access to an Elite division program within a reasonable distance from their homes. Elite division teams will have defined geographical regions that determine the team for which a player is eligible to try out. Hockey Alberta is in the process of confirming host locations for the remaining six Midget and Bantam elite teams based on current female hockey programming, geography, and registration demographics.

Establishing the structure and numbers of teams for the Midget AAA, and Midget and Bantam Elite divisions was an integral part of the work that has been undertaken over the past three years by the Female Hockey Review Committee. Providing the best environment for athlete development was the overarching goal of the committee, which included members representing a cross-section of levels, leagues and communities.

“Ultimately, the final decision in establishing the locations of the Midget AAA and Elite division teams was based on three pillars,” said Greg Nesom, a member of the Female Hockey Review Committee. “First, it was imperative to establish a model where teams are set up for success, where the athletes play with their peers in skill and age. Second, by playing within an appropriate level division, our athletes will have better opportunities to advance to higher levels of competition. They will develop enhanced fundamental skills through more puck touches, quality ice time, and system play.”

“The new model provides each female player in Alberta with the chance to start playing in her home community, then progress to a regionally-based Elite team at Bantam or Midget, and potentially move to the top of the pyramid at Midget AAA,” Nesom said.

The Review committee determined that approximately 10 per cent of all female hockey players in Alberta should be playing at the Midget AAA level. For the Midget and Bantam Elite levels, which are designed as a bridge between the Grassroots and AAA Midget programs, it was determined that approximately 20 per cent of players, or 12 teams, should be playing at that level.

The remaining approximately 70 per cent of female hockey players would play within a grassroots model of tiered divisions. Grassroots Female hockey would see approximately 60 teams playing at each of the Atom and Peewee level across the province, with approximately 40 Bantam and 35 Midget grassroots teams, in addition to the AAA and Elite teams in divisions.

“With the new model, female hockey players across Alberta will be able to develop their skills by playing in consistent leagues that will better prepare them as they strive to advance to the highest level of competition in the province,” said Mel Davidson, Hockey Canada’s general manager of national women’s team programs. “Players will now have the opportunity to excel from the grassroots level in their local communities through to the Elite and Midget AAA levels where they will be able to develop by competing and practicing in an appropriate division against the top female talent in the province.”

Specific recommendations regarding the new structure for Grassroots Female hockey are being finalized by Hockey Alberta’s Grassroots Implementation Committee. The focus for the Grassroots committee is to provide the opportunity for female players to access teams within close proximity to their home town, while also ensuring that peers are playing with peers in age and ability.

Work has been ongoing for three years on developing a new Female Hockey Model. A third-party report in 2013 stated that participants within the game felt very strongly that an overall structural change was required to facilitate the growth of the female game. In 2015, recommendations from a Female Review Committee were approved by Hockey Alberta’s Board of Directors leading to the creation of the Elite and Grassroots committees, with a goal of having a new structure for Female Hockey in place for the 2016-17 season.

  1. How was membership on the Female Hockey Review Committee determined?

Hockey Alberta’s Board of Directors authorized a third party review that took place in 2013, the formation of a committee in 2014 to provide recommendations to address feedback collected in the report, and approved proceeding with recommendations from the review committee in 2015. The recommendations called for the formation of separate committees to focus on determining and implementing changes to the Elite and Grassroots levels.

These committees were not intended to be geographically representative of the province. Rather, individuals from within Alberta’s female hockey structure were identified to review all the information, build an action plan, and begin implementing changes based on the approved recommendations. Committee members were identified because of their knowledge and background from various areas of the province and various aspects of female hockey.


  1. How is all of this change good for female hockey?

At the conclusion of the process, and once the Grassroots Implementation Committee has completed its mandate, the new Female Hockey Model will provide a full development system from the bottom to the top. It will focus on providing more opportunities for peers to play with peers (age and skill level), allowing more female players to have the chance to play in the female system (if they wish to), attracting more female players to hockey, and strengthening the entire female hockey system in Alberta. This will be good for all players in the Province, as it will be a model that shows players the development pathway and helps them to achieve their goals. 


  1. Will fewer spots for Midget AAA players negatively impact post-secondary scholarship opportunities for Alberta’s female players?

No. A core principle in the Female Hockey Review was the perception that AAA hockey was the only option for a female player interested in moving onto a post-secondary program and that if you are not on the top team it is not worth playing at all. 

This perception is not based on fact. A number of post-secondary institutions and national team scouts and staff members were consulted in the review. They said that the single most significant factor in recruiting is a player’s skill level and the top players will be identified regardless of the level of league in which their team(s) play.


  1. These changes seem to have become public only recently. Why is Hockey Alberta proceeding so quickly?

The review process started in 2013, when Rick Polutnik was commissioned to review the entire female hockey system. The decision to undertake a review was based on feedback provided to Hockey Alberta for the previous two years, suggesting that the existing female hockey system in Alberta was no longer adequate. His independent review confirmed that feedback, identified clearly that the status quo was no longer acceptable, and outlined a process to identify necessary changes. Information pertaining to the study was made available to Hockey Alberta’s members and stakeholders, as well as the general public. 

In the ensuing two years since the review was completed, additional research and review has been completed by a Female Review Committee. Updates on the work of this Committee, as well as work of the Elite Implementation and Grassroots Implementation committees, have been communicated to Local Minor Hockey Associations through Information bulletins and via in-person reports at Zone meetings held throughout the year. In addition to being circulated to our LMHAs, Information Bulletins are also available for public viewing on the Hockey Alberta website.


  1. Why factors led to the locations selected for the Midget AAA franchises?

The new Midget AAA structure needs to be viewed as part of overall “elite” female system, not just as its own division. Establishing the structure and numbers of teams for the Midget AAA, and new Midget and Bantam Elite divisions was an integral part of the work that has been undertaken over the past three years by the Female Hockey Review Committee.

The six communities selected to host Midget AAA franchises were chosen based on a comprehensive process that included a review of regional player demographics for female hockey, and an application and in-person presentation process. There are no defined boundaries for Midget AAA teams, with players able to choose the team for which they wish to try out. In addition to hosting AAA franchises, the six centres will host Midget Elite and Bantam Elite teams.

The Midget and Bantam Elite divisions each will have 12 teams. These teams will be located strategically in communities across northern, central and southern Alberta to ensure players have access to an Elite division program within a reasonable distance from their homes. Elite division teams will have defined geographical regions that determine the team for which a player is eligible to try out.


  1. How did you decide on six Midget AAA teams?

Over the past decade in Alberta, approximately 20-22% of all bantam and midget-aged female players were playing a level of hockey that was called AAA. The review process looked at the number of players playing at the AAA level and evaluated how to make changes to the system in order to build a system of hockey where player development was truly the focus.

An objective of the committee was to reduce to approximately 10% of Midget-aged players playing AAA. Based on the current season, as well as an historical review of registration numbers, this would mean building a system with six Midget AAA teams and therefore giving the opportunity for all players to try out to obtain a sport on one of these teams. 

In order to give all LMHAs the opportunity, the committee implemented an application process whereby any LMHA could apply to host a AAA franchise. The committee evaluated applications based on the presented bids, registration numbers of players in various areas of the Province, and the history of teams/ programs. Tough decisions had to be made in order to give Alberta players the best opportunity to develop within the system.


  1. Doesn’t fewer bantam and midget AAA teams mean fewer opportunities for players?

No. The female hockey review focuses on more than the structure of hockey at the elite or AAA level. The review involves an overhaul of female hockey at all levels in Alberta, including developing a feeder system within which our players can develop their skills as they strive to make it to Midget AAA hockey. 

There has not been a structured category of hockey that provided an opportunity for female players to keep playing the game at a level with their peers (both in age and skill level) at a level that is under the level of Midget AAA. We believe this change will improve the Midget AAA league, with more players prepared to make the step up to try out for Midget AAA.

The second tier of Midget female hockey will be an Elite league, focused on player development. The Midget Elite division will have talented players who will move onto Midget AAA, college or university teams. In the end, players in all areas of the Province will have a choice. Right now a large number of families are making the choice to move and access the Sport School program because they feel there are no other options. This new model will provide one more option for families; they can choose to go to a Sport School, choose to try out for a Midget AAA program, or chose to try out for an Elite program (which may be closer to their home).