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Supporting Sledge 

From Western Canada tournaments to WHL demonstrations, Hockey Alberta helps promote the sledge game.

by Kristen Odland – Calgary Herald

Calgarian Nolan Wiebe fell in love with sledge hockey when a friend introduced him to the game 19 years ago.

"And I’ve been hooked ever since," said the 27-year-old, who plays for the Calgary Scorpions, a senior sledge hockey team which has been running for over a decade. "It’s fast-paced, up-tempo.

"It’s like the NHL, just a little bit different."

Simply put, sledge hockey is the Paralympic version of ice hockey. Making its debut at the 1994 Paralympic Games in Lillehammer, the game is fast-paced, highly physical and growing significantly in Alberta and Canada.

In 2004, Hockey Alberta – the governing body for the sport in the province – together with the provincial government, became involved with sledge hockey to assist with its growth and development in Alberta.

"It’s just like hockey," says Tim Leer, Hockey Alberta’s senior manager of hockey development, who oversees the sledge hockey program. "When you watch talented players play, it’s a very exciting game to watch.

"It’s no different than a regular hockey game. The second thing is, it’s an alternative to hockey. You don’t have to have a disability to play sledge."

The rules for sledge hockey are similar to able-bodied hockey. Each team consists of six players, including the goaltender. Line changes, equipment, ice surfaces, nets and pucks are all similar to hockey. In senior sledge hockey, body checking is allowed.

However, instead of skates, players sit in sleds that are atop two hockey skate blades. Players carry two sticks – about one-third the length of a regular hockey stick with a metal pick on the end for movement – instead of one.

Although registration fees are typically lower than for minor hockey, custom-fit sleds are quite expensive. They range anywhere between $600 to $800.

"Our approach as Hockey Alberta is, yes, we want to recruit and make sure the disabled community knows about it as an option as an activity," Leer said. "But also, for able-bodied athletes.
"Try sledge."

At the moment, hundreds of players in the province are playing the game.

Hockey Alberta’s focus at the moment is exposure.

"It’s still a relatively new game to people," Leer said. "They don’t know much about it."

The sport is gaining traction through school programs, clubs and minor hockey associations to try to engage the communities of Alberta.

Attracting a number of teams of various levels, Leduc hosted the seventh-annual Western Canada Sledge Hockey Tournament earlier this year. Around 200 participants attended in junior (15-years-old and under) and senior A and B categories among 16 teams.

In 2012, the tournament will be held at WinSport’s sledge hockey-friendly ice surface at Canada Olympic Park.

Hockey Alberta also hosts a summer development camp in Camrose each year, teaming up with its high performance hockey program for male and female hockey players.

"We combine the sledge camp with that to expose players," Leer said. "We bring in Team Canada players and coaches with off-ice sessions to help take players to that next level.

"Now, we’re seeing four or five players being invited to Team Canada tryout-camps where as before, it was only one player. We’re slowly getting there."

Growth at the grassroots level of sledge hockey is important for Hockey Alberta.

The success of the sport in Alberta has created demand for a new, formalized league starting this fall which will feature two or three divisions, plus a championship series at season’s end.

Meanwhile, Hockey Alberta has teamed up with the Western Hockey League to promote sledge hockey with the assistance of the five WHL teams in the province. The game will be on display to a large audience between periods during the 2011-12 season.

Hockey Alberta is also teaming up with Hockey Canada to host the 2011 World Sledge Hockey Challenge from Nov. 27 to Dec. 3 in Calgary.

"That’s going to create a lot of exposure," Leer said. "It’ll be a great event to promote the game, especially in the city of Calgary."

To compete at an international level – at, for example, the Paralympics – athletes have some type of disability. Team Canada captain Greg Westlake had both his feet amputated at 10 months old. Retired captain Jean Labonté, who helped Canada to Paralympic gold in Turin 2006 and a fourth-place finish in Vancouver 2010, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma and had his leg amputated in 1990.

However, at a recreational level, the situation is sometimes a bit different.

"A lot of clubs that we have throughout Alberta, it’s because one person or player has a disability," Leer said. "And around them, the friends and family of that player are supporting him or her and playing sledge.

"It’s an opportunity for people to get out and play the game of hockey in a different way."


2011 Future Leader Scholarship Winners 

The Hockey Alberta Foundation is pleased to announce the 2011 post-secondary student scholarship winners through the Future Leaders Scholarship program. Each recipient was awarded a $1000 scholarship in recognition of their excellent leadership skills in Hockey Alberta’s Future Leaders Development Program. 

In addition to the $1000 scholarships, the Hockey Alberta Foundation also granted two Distinguished Future Leader Scholarships for $3000. These awards went to student leaders who demonstrated exceptional leadership and dedication throughout the program, which is operated by Hockey Alberta each year. The recipients of the Distinguished Future Leader Scholarships for 2011 are Brandin Cote and Cody Reynolds.

First Name

Last Name



Brandin Cote Red Deer $4000 - Distinguished
Cody Reynolds Sylvan Lake $4000 - Distinguished
Calaine Inglis Edmonton $1000
Richard Wong Grande Prairie $1000
Sarah Hilworth Edmonton $1000
Travis Klemp Drayton Valley $1000
Jayden Skoye St. Albert $1000
Amy Van Buskirk Lethbridge $1000

“The Hockey Alberta Foundation is very proud to award these funds to some of Alberta’s brightest young leaders in Hockey,” said Gary Seher, chairman, Hockey Alberta Foundation. “This year’s group of students was exceptional and we look forward to their continued involvement in communities and programs in Alberta in the years to come.”

The Hockey Alberta Future Leaders program identifies and trains University and College students who aspire to become future coaches and/or volunteers in Hockey. The Future Leaders Scholarship program awards the top student leaders with scholarships for their demonstration of leadership and excellence throughout the program.


Fort Mac To Host First Junior A Outdoor Game

Fred Rinne/Sun Media - A patch or frozen water; a crisp whiff in the air that sets the nostril afire; the sound of steel blades slicing a song of seductive swagger; a bunch of players chasing a frozen disc, hoping to put that thing between the opposition’s pipes before - and more often - than they can respond.

It doesn’t get much more Canadian than that.

And outdoors, without aid of roof, the snow bank as both bench and boards, is where so many of this country’s great hockey talents learned their trade.

In 2003, the NHL, in partnership with the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadians, hosted the first outdoor NHL game in the modern era at Commonwealth Stadium. A crowd pushing 60,000 braved brutally cold -30 elements that day to watch the spectacle.

Since that time, the event has become an annual occurrence with games played in Buffalo, Chicago, Boston and the experiment has been expanded to two games this season, with Calgary hosting the Habs at McMahon Stadium Feb. 20 and the Penguins hosting Washington at Heinz Field on the now-traditional New Year’s Day date.

Enter the AJHL and more specifically the Fort McMurray Oil Barons.

Always progressive on marketing the community, their franchise, and the league, the braintrust of the MOB are ready to host the first outdoor Junior A hockey game in the world.

On Friday, Nov. 26, the Barons will host the Drayton Valley Thunder in the "Northern Classic, which is a recreational, cultural, and spirit-building celebration that is intended to challenge the fallacy of the negative image often used to portray Fort McMurray and the Wood Buffalo region. The classic setting of Canadiana, surrounded by the picturesque boreal forest, on a true northern landscape offers the perfect canvas on which to write history," says the organizing committee.

"The Oil Barons and the Wood Buffalo region treat the AJHL as a top priority, elevating the League’s status across the Province and Canada. This event will only continue the momentum that the Oil Barons have within the community and as a member within the AJHL," says AJHL VP of Marketing Ryan Bartoshyk.

The Northern Classic will be playing in a temporary stadium built with a capacity of 5,000 seats and hosted at MacDonald Island Park.

"This event is pond hockey - Fort McMurrary style," said Sheldon Germain, chairman of the Northern Classic Organizing Committee. "This amazing venue will be enjoyed by local, provincial and national media and 5,000 fans."

With the League OK and a date fixed, tickets for the Northern Classic went on sale at 8 a.m. on Oct. 15, and the event sold out in only 54 minutes.4,400 tickets gone in a blink of an eye.
"Did I think we would sell out in 54 minutes? No way!" said Tim Reid, co-chairman.

A 22-person committee has spearheaded the event, and Boutilier says the group has done the community, the franchise and the league proud.

"I think there are 16 great communities in this league and we all have a lot to offer, and I think if we get together and take opportunities such as these...together... it will benefit the AJHL as a whole. I’m really excited about it."

"We often get focused on what our own teams are doing, but I think we all need to look at the bigger picture," he said.

The opposing Thunder are guided by Fran Gow, who, as head coach and GM of the Barons’ club in 2000, captured a league title and won the Royal Bank Cup. This is the 10-year anniversary of that accomplishment, and as such there are many events around the game designed to celebrate that win.

"That’s really the Fort McMurray way of doing things," says Gow.

"That 2000 RBC experience was unforgettable, a great time and this is really a wonderful opportunity to remember that... to have a lot of the people involved and back to celebrate. I really appreciate the opportunity that the Oil Barons have asked us to be a part of."

Both Gow and Oil Barons bench boss and GM Gord Thibodeau have tossed aside the usual coach-to-media speak in advance of this game. While both know this is just ’another game’ on the AJHL schedule, they also know this is not any other contest.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity," says Thibodeau, who recently coached his 1,000 AJHL contest.

"While we remain focused on the task at hand, there’s no doubt it’s on their minds, and we recognize that this is the first-time ever in Junior A hockey history and it’s important everyone is a part of that," he says.

And with that spirit in mind, both the AJHL and Hockey Canada have given a special one-game dispensation to allow both teams to dress their entire 23-player rosters for this game, so each can get a taste of the experience.

"That could be the most interesting storyline," says Gow.

"How we manage a bench that size."

Thibodeau agrees.

’It would be very unfortunate to have a player on your roster not being able to take part in the game for roster reasons," he says. "Having them all being able to play and enjoy that once-in-a-lifetime experience is really special."

AJHL president Craig T. Cripps said this is also an outstanding opportunity for the league as it will showcase the AJHL on national scale.

"The Alberta Junior Hockey League is ecstatic for the opportunity to have its players and teams participate in this historic event," he said.

"This could not have been possible without the full support of our sponsors and the municipality," says Boutilier. "The legacy of the infrastructure is huge, and the fact we will always be the first Junior A outdoor game, that speaks to the progressive nature of our community, our franchise and our league and I think that’s important to remember."

"Let’s hope the weather co-operates."

Current projections for game day... -6.8.

Just right.


Hockey Alberta Remembers Kyle Fundytus

On November 13, 2011, Kyle Fundytus of Edmonton, tragically passed away at the age of 16 years.

Kyle will be sadly missed and forever remembered by his loving parents, Laurie and Sue; his sister and best friend, Jenny; grandmother, Yvonne Foisy; and Dido, William Fundytus. He is also survived by numerous aunts and uncles, cousins, school mates, many friends and his hockey family.

Prayers will be held on Thursday, November 17, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. at St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, 7508 - 29 Avenue, Edmonton where a Mass of Resurrection will be celebrated on Friday, November 18, 2011 at 10:30 a.m.

Fundytus passed away in Edmonton. Fundytus was playing for the South Side Athletic Club’s (SSAC) Don Wheaton Midget AA team at the Clareview Arena when he was struck in the neck by the puck during a hockey game against the Maple Leaf Athletic Club (MLAC) Saturday afternoon. Fundytus was rushed to the hospital, but succumbed to the injury.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Fundytus family and to all the athletes and staff of both the SSAC and MLAC hockey teams during this difficult time,” said Hockey Alberta President, Rob Virgil. “This was a tragic accident that has deeply affected the hockey community in Alberta. Our focus right now is to ensure the emotional & psychological needs of those involved are being looked after.”


Hockey Alberta & BC Hockey Announce The 2012 Team Pacific Roster

Hockey Alberta and BC Hockey announced Tuesday the 22-player roster that will represent Team Pacific at the 2012 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, December 29, 2011 – January 4, 2012 in Windsor, Ontario.

Team Pacific is comprised of 11 players from BC and 11 players from Alberta. Each province held a provincial camp over the summer to identify a set number of players. These players were evaluated during the first part of the club team season by a selected group of high performance evaluators.

“We’re very excited about the talented group of athletes we’re bringing to this competition,” said Team Pacific Head Coach, Michael Dyck. “We feel we have the right pieces in place to compete against the top teams in Windsor next month.”


“Now that the team is solidified, we can focus on bringing this group together and preparing them to compete at a very high level,” added Dyck. “Preparation is key for a short-term competition like this and we look forward to beginning the process with the 22 players.

The 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge will bring together the top players in the world born in 1995 or later. The tournament is made up of 10 teams; five (5) from Canada - Quebec, Ontario, Pacific (Alberta, British Columbia, Northwest Territories, Yukon), Atlantic (New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island) and West (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nunavut), and five (5) International teams - Germany, Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic and the United States.

Team Pacific has included some of the top hockey players that Canada has ever produced.  Some notable graduates who have competed on Team Pacific include:

• Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 2010

• Joe Sakic, Team Pacific 1986

Jarome Iginla, Team Pacific 1994

• Brent Seabrook, Team Pacific 2002

Dion Phaneuf, Team Pacific 2002

• Mike Green, Team Pacific 2002

Evander Kane, Team Pacific 2008

The Under 17 program is the first step in Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence.  Many players who compete at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge go on to represent Canada with the National Men’s Under 18 Team, National Junior Team and National Men’s Team.

At the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Winnipeg, Manitoba Team Pacific finished third winning the bronze medal.