RED DEER, Alta.
Indigenous youth hockey players across Alberta are expected to benefit from a new partnership.
The deal, announced this past month, will see the Indigenous Sport Council of Alberta (ISCA) join forces with Hockey Alberta to provide Indigenous hockey players in the province with increased opportunities.
ISCA is the governing body for Indigenous sports in Alberta while Hockey Alberta, which operates out of its office in Red Deer, oversees all aspects of the sport in the province.
Also, Hockey Alberta now has an eight-person Indigenous hockey committee, which is being chaired by Winston Delorme, who lives in the hamlet of Grande Cache.
The Indigenous committee plans to hold monthly conference calls. It will also be staging its first in-person meeting this Friday and Saturday in Red Deer.
Delorme was already working with Hockey Alberta as its Indigenous rep. His duties included helping to organize coaching and referee clinics with Indigenous minor hockey associations throughout the province.
But Delorme is thrilled at the new partnership announcement with Hockey Alberta.
“I think it’s going to help a lot of the Indigenous minor hockey associations and it will help improve and promote their hockey players,” he said. “And I believe this partnership with Hockey Alberta will push a lot of players and help develop them locally, provincially and nationally.”
Delorme believes there are many cases where talented elite Indigenous players could be toiling for the highest-calibre AAA youth teams. But they end up playing for clubs that are not as competitive.
“The parents don’t know where to take them next,” he said. “They know their son or daughter is a good player. But they don’t know where to send them or what camp to go to.”
Delorme said one of the goals of the new partnership is to raise awareness of Indigenous players throughout Alberta.
“We’re going to work on getting scouts to their games and to support them,” he said. “A lot of kids don’t have that support.”
As part of the partnership, Hockey Canada officials will also annually be assisting with the operation of the Alberta female and male squads that compete at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships (NAHC).
The 2020 NAHC will be staged in Regina in May.
Hockey Alberta reps will be among those that select the Indigenous coaching staffs for the NAHC. And they’ll help out with the various aspects of the tryout camps for the NAHC-bound Alberta squads.
Indigenous Sport Council officials have been working towards forming partnerships with various sports bodies in Alberta during the past year. It’s only natural it forged a working deal with Hockey Alberta.
“I think it’s going to be a really good opportunity for all of our kids,” said Shannon Dunfield, the chair of the council. “They have a huge, huge amount of resources to draw on.”
Jake Hendy, the council’s executive director, is also pleased with the deal.
“Our big goal in any sport through the ISCA is to help support our athletes go as far as they can in their sport,” he said.
Hendy said it’s simple what he wants youth to get out of this new partnership.
“Opportunities, opportunities, opportunities,” he said. “That’s the big thing we want for every kid in every community to have an opportunity and to know about it.”
Hendy is also glad to see Hockey Alberta officials will be helping ISCA with the selection of its teams that will participate at the NAHC.
“We’re excited to get going and to put our best teams out on the ice,” he said. “We’re really excited to have a partner working with us to enhance the over-all experience for our youth.”
Delorme said the Alberta players that will compete at the 2020 NAHC will be chosen at a weekend tryout camp, which will be held this April. Officials are trying to nail down details for the camp, which is expected to be held in Edmonton or Red Deer.
Delorme believes both of those cities are centrally located in the province and should be convenient enough for all interested players to attend the camp.
Delorme realizes some families or players will still complain they will need to drive several hours to attend the tryout camps. But Delorme added that will be the one and only opportunity to crack the Alberta squads.
“Whoever comes, comes,” he said. “And that’s who we’re going to go with to Regina.”