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Minor Hockey Week: Ice availability causing problems for Airdrie hockey groups

Airdrie’s growing hockey player population has outpaced the City’s ability to provide facilities to play the national pastime and the situation of ice availability in the community has hockey groups worried.

Airdrie’s growing hockey player population has outpaced the City’s ability to provide facilities to play the national pastime and the situation of ice availability in the community has hockey groups worried.  

Hockey is the game of choice for countless Canadian communities, Airdrie included. But unlike other popular North American sports, like basketball or baseball–which require fairly simple playing fields–organized hockey has to be played in specific indoor locations. 

There are ice rinks in most small and large towns all across the country, with most urban centres having more than one thanks to the sports country-wide popularity. But in certain areas where demand and desire to play is pushing facilities to their limits, community organizations have been left to worry how they’ll get kids on the ice. 

The Airdrie Minor Hockey Association (AMHA) organizes leagues for kids ages six to 21, recreation to AAA, both male and female. About 1,500 kids belong to AMHA across leagues and age groups. In total, AMHA must find ice for 82 different teams, which includes typically at least a practice a week and games on the weekends. 

Nicole Gidluck, one of the vice presidents of AMHA, said that the organization is facing some challenges when it comes to the amount of players in minor hockey compared to the available ice teams can use. 

“AMHA currently has wait lists and registration caps at all levels due to the inadequate ice availability,” confirmed Gidluck, who added that the situation will only get worse as Airdrie waits for new ice creation. 

Gidluck added that AMHA and the City have a good working relationship and that the issue of ice availability is something they’ve been working on together. 

“Everyone is working together to find the best solutions to Airdrie's growth pressures while AMHA maintains its priority to advocate for our membership and hockey enthusiasts,” said Gidluck. 

Currently, Airdrie has five ice surfaces; two at Ron Ebbesen, two at Genesis Place, and one at Plainsman Arena. With a general population closing in on 90,000 and with the amount of hockey players growing, five ice surfaces currently present are not enough for all the teams associated with AMHA. 

According to a recent assessment report done by the City of Airdrie and presented to council at the beginning of February, two new ice surfaces will be required by 2035, under the current population growth scenario.

However, under the highest population growth scenario, three ice surfaces, not two,  will be needed by 2035 just to maintain the existing service standards. 

City council had talked about the potential of a new event centre that could include ice surfaces going in with the SW Recreation Centre that will be constructed in 2026, but the recommendation brought before council did not consider a potential event centre. 

With the inadequate ice availability in Airdrie, teams in minor hockey typically turn to rinks based in smaller communities outside of Airdrie for practices and the occasional game. This season the U18 AAA Airdrie Bisons played a game at the Pete Knight Memorial Arena in Crossfield. 

Gidluck stated that, “nine per cent of AMHA's practice ice is sourced external to the City of Airdrie facilities, at either private facilities or within other municipalities due to lack of availability of required ice hours.”

Aside from the minor hockey association, there are other groups in Airdrie that have made getting players on the ice outside of a traditional team ice time a major priority. 

The Global Academy, a hockey program for Airdrie high school students run by coaches on the Airdrie Bisons staff, balances a schedule of on-ice practices with sport performance development and academics. 

In an interview with the Airdrie City View back in December, the Global Academy area manager for Airdrie Tyler Fiddler, claimed that because of the unavailability of ice, hockey players aren’t getting as many opportunities to hone their craft. 

“I look at some of these kids and Airdrie’s been growing so fast and the facilities have not been able to catch up,” said Fiddler. “The high schools are at capacity and we only have five sheets of ice and all of a sudden all these teams in all of these leagues are battling for ice time.” 

The desire to play the game is high, but the availability of the games playing surface has the potential to limit opportunities to play the game. According to AMHA, unless more ice becomes available, the situation will only get worse. 

“Without additional ice availability,” said Gidluck. “It will be extremely difficult to field more teams and more children will be denied access to the great Canadian pastime within our borders.


Riley Stovka

About the Author: Riley Stovka

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