News of the U17 AAA Airdrie-Cochrane Avalanche program being moved to Airdrie and the announcement of holding early morning practices for at least the U18 AAA Bisons in Airdrie has not been well received in Cochrane hockey circles.
After calling Cochrane home since founded in 2007, Airdrie minor hockey officials have decided to move the Avs. Additionally, the AA U16 Havoc will no longer be provided ice time by the Cochrane Minor Hockey Association. (CMHA).
Bob McLean, chair of the Airdrie-Cochrane Athletic Association (ACAA), says the board unanimously voted to restructure the ACAA committee and move the U17 AAA Avalanche team practices and the majority of games from Cochrane to Airdrie effective this fall.
"The main reasons for this is to align all of the Airdrie Minor hockey AAA Elite teams so that we can build a stronger, more cohesive, consistent program to develop our athletes, as well as create a seamless player affiliation between teams," explains McLean.
After being informed of the decision, CMHA withdrew all ice times for both the Avs and AA Havoc teams, citing the need to use the prime time slots for other developmental programs.
McLean said the Havoc had been splitting its practices 50-50 between Airdrie and Cochrane but all of them will now be held in Airdrie in light of the decision by CMHC.
CMHC president Corey Oaten says an expansion bid is being made to Hockey Alberta to establish a Cochrane-based AAA hockey program starting in the 2024-25 season.
Oaten says Cochrane minor hockey is one of the fastest growing in Alberta. It has about 1,100 players and expects to close in on 1,200 by the start of the 24-25 season. That, he says, has been considered the magic number used in the past by Hockey Alberta in determining if a AAA program is viable.
Cochrane's number stack up well. Airdrie, a city of over 85,000, has 1,250-1,300 players. Proportionately Cochrane has a deeper penetration into the community.
"Our retention and our growth in Cochrane is quite substantial," says Oaten. "We are one of the fastest-growing associations in Alberta and, of course, one of the fastest-growing communities in Alberta, if not Canada,"
The AA Bow Valley Timberwolves program is carded by CMHA, and it is ideally the name and catchment area, which includes Canmore and Cremona, that will be used for a triple A program.
"We have always had a great working relationship with Canmore, and the same with Cremona," says CMHA president Corey Oaten, "Those are communities that we work super well together with, outside of the ordinary kind of working relationship issues."
He stresses their aim is to continue to develop the offerings of the association to benefit youth in their entire double A catchment area.
"They're all part of our hockey family and everybody there is important to us. We just want to try and figure out the best path forward for our elite stream because we have a lot of kids looking at other options now."
He believes it geographically makes sense for the players and parents, not only in Cochrane but across the region.
"If they could rejigger those borders then I think it eases the burden on a lot of families and commute times. It just tightens those distances."
The U18 AAA Bisons, for one, has announced their practices will be held at 7 a.m. for the upcoming season. That makes it difficult for Cochrane and Canmore players who don't billet in Airdrie to join the team.
Oaten says such decisions create natural geographical walls for players and families outside of Airdrie. Still, CMHC will continue to support its athletes, no matter where they decide to play.
He says the cost of attending a hockey school is upwards of $30,000 to $40,000 a year and that puts immense pressure on families wanting their kids to succeed, especially with current inflation.
ACAA chair McLean says the restructuring was not intended to dissolve any relationship with its Hockey Alberta draw zone associations.
"Currently, we are working with a Cochrane rep on some important decisions regarding the AAA program," says McLean. "Moving forward, we will continue to reach out to other draw zones to encourage participation in the committee."