FORT MCMURRAY - In the aftermath of devastating wildfires that impacted northeastern Alberta in May, the Fort McMurray Minor Hockey Association has emerged as a source of stability for a community filled with uncertainty.
As residents returned to Fort McMurray throughout the summer, following the evacuation of nearly 90,000 people, the community was looking for any signs of normalcy.
“We had a lot of people wondering when hockey was going to start, saying that ‘we need hockey to go, we need hockey,’” said Travis Galenzoski, president of Fort McMurray Minor Hockey. “People were looking to hockey for a calming effect. Spending a day at the arena is normal, it provides an outlet.”
In the early going, though, there weren’t many answers. The fires and evacuation meant the association had not held its annual general meeting. Jerseys and equipment needed to be cleaned or repaired. And then there was an even bigger question - would there be a place to play?
“There was uncertainty in ice availability. Were we going to get our home arena back?” said Galenzoski. “The biggest thing was not knowing. Once we got our arena back, the front of the season was extremely busy and pretty stressful. Thanks to the hard work of our arena manager, operations manager, and a whole lot of volunteers, we made it happen. Other than a bit of a delay in starting evaluations, our players’ hockey experience has not changed.”
Registration numbers are down slightly (about three per cent) for the 2016-17 season. But more than 1,100 players, comprising approximately 60 teams, are on the ice. And the association is hosting Hockey Alberta’s Atom AA Major provincial championships in March.
“This is fantastic. We have managed to put on a hockey program after an 88,000-person evacuation,” said Galenzoski.
To help support minor hockey in the northeast, Fort McMurray minor hockey and players throughout the region are the beneficiaries of $21,500 raised collectively by Hockey Canada, Hockey Alberta, Hockey Canada Foundation and Hockey Alberta Foundation.
The funds include:
- $10,000 from Hockey Canada
- $5,000 from the Hockey Alberta Foundation’s Every Kid Every Community grant and player assistance programs
- $5,000 from the Hockey Canada Foundation, and
- $1,500 raised at Hockey Alberta’s 2016 annual general meeting through contributions from Local Minor Hockey Associations across Alberta.
“Our hearts went out to the community and residents of Fort McMurray this summer who faced displacement, devastation, and loss. To see the relentless work of the volunteers of Fort Mac’s hockey community to ensure their players, coaches, officials, and fans all had hockey to turn to this season as they work to rebuild was truly inspiring,” said Tom Renney, president and chief executive officer of Hockey Canada. “Hockey Canada and the Hockey Canada Foundation are proud to contribute to the efforts of the Fort McMurray Minor Hockey Association, and to support this resilient community as they move forward from this summer’s devastating fire.”
All funds will go directly towards support the players, families and coaches who were impacted by the devastating forest fires that impacted the region in May. Planned initiatives include supporting ongoing player development programs, implementing a coach development plan in partnership with Hockey Alberta’s Regional Centre network, and player assistance and growing the game initiatives.
“Our biggest area of opportunity is development for our coaches,” said Galenzoski. “We want to invest in our coaches, and we believe that investment in coaching has a direct correlation with player development and participation.”
Player development programming started about six weeks ago, with a goal of having each team participate in 3-5 development sessions. The association is also looking to host division-specific sessions for goaltenders, with mentors coming in to provide development opportunities.
“The Hockey Alberta Foundation, through the Every Kid Every Community program, is proud to play a role in assisting Fort McMurray Minor Hockey continue in its leadership role, not just for hockey, but within the overall community. We look forward to supporting a number of initiatives that will benefit current coaches and players, as well as those who want to play hockey for the first time,” said Tim Leer, executive director of the Hockey Alberta Foundation.
Growing the game initiatives aimed at attracting new players to the game by providing equipment and helping with registration fees will be geared to recruiting for the 2017-18 season.
For more information, check out the association’s website at www.fmmha.com.
Contributions at the 2016 Hockey Alberta AGM included seven minor hockey associations (Caroline, Hinton, Lloydminster, Lethbridge, Grande Prairie, Hockey Edmonton and Hockey Calgary), and two individuals (Jody Ginther and Betty Chmilar).
For individuals or groups interested in making a donation to support Fort McMurray minor hockey, the Hockey Alberta Foundation is accepting donations, with 100 per cent of funds donated going to Fort McMurray. Donations can be made at hockeyalbertafoundation.ca, or by going to this link: