Stettler Minor Hockey Association has opened a new season with more players and teams on board.
“We have added a few teams to our association,” said second-year president Jason Hegberg. “An atom female team will play for the first time this year. We’ve also added a third male team to the midget category.
“It is awesome to see that more girls are coming out to play. Hopefully, those girls will stay with the program and play up until they’re done in midget. The bantam and midget female teams both have full rosters.”
Although female hockey is making inroads, there’s no girls’ team at the peewee level.
Stettler is icing 15 teams — A, B and C — in atom, peewee, bantam and midget boys’ categories. More than 220 players are registered with those teams, and the association also has four novice teams.
The novice division hosts its annual tournament this Saturday and Sunday.
Check it out
The peewee division is adjusting a new Hockey Alberta rule that prohibits checking at that level.
“The peewee A team has played one game thus far, and the rule hasn’t affected us, at all,” said Hegberg, the head coach of that team. “I’m a strong believer in teaching the kids techniques like angling to help them use proper contact methods for the game. I’ve taught the kids these techniques since I started coaching.
“Regardless if the kids are able to hit or not, they are allowed to check. It’s not true that there is no contact in peewee. There are certain situations in the game where contact isn’t allowed. I believe that the rule has not taken contact right out of the game. The no-hit rule is trying to prevent bad situations where players can get hurt due to the size difference of kids at that age.”
The rule change is similar to the new standard across Canada. The Alberta decision came just a couple of months after Stettler’s peewee A team won the provincial championship.
“At first, I was unsure of the reasoning of why Hockey Alberta took hitting out of peewee,” Hegberg said. “But from what I heard about it, I’m fine with it. I think there is no need for hitting at the peewee level. I feel our kids have already transitioned to play without having to hit. It will help the kids as they move into bantam, because they will be able to angle better and get themselves into positions so the players can make good checks.”
All of the Stettler minor hockey teams have scheduled home tournaments for their respective divisions. They begin with the novice tourney this weekend.
Last season was a banner season for the Stettler association, which produced provincial champions in peewee A, bantam A and midget B (with Stettler’s midget A team), along with multiple North Central Minor Hockey Association titles.
The bantam A team won its provincial title on home ice.
“We haven’t chosen which team (or division) will hold provincials yet, but we are going to place a bid to host provincials,” Hegberg said. “We’ve hosted provincials for the past two years. It is a fundraiser for our association, it puts our volunteers to work, and our community puts on a great event. We’ve had great comments from Hockey Alberta, so we’ve continued to do it.”
More than 250 kids are registered with the Stettler association.
“We’re looking forward to another great year,” Hegberg said. “We had a good successful last year, as far as player development. Winning isn’t the most important thing, but we strive for it. I think every kid wants to win a championship. For us to bring home three provincial banners last year is quite outstanding.
“Whether or not we can repeat that (success) or make it better, who knows,” Hegberg said. “We like to see all of our teams compete, and if they can make it to the provincial level and represent our community strongly and show them what our hockey program is about, then that is great.”
Stettler had paid particular attention to development at the grassroots levels.
“For the last three to four years, we’ve been making strides at our younger programs, mites and novice,” the president said. “We are seeing benefits from those kids that have gone through Stettler’s program by showing more skill development and skating development as a group.
“I believe we’ll have a good solid year. Everybody needs to remember that the kids are just out here to play hockey. These kids aren’t (pro) hockey players, they are just kids playing hockey with our program.”
Hegberg stressed that parents must understand their kids are in the rink to have fun.
“We’ve got to remember what we are doing and where we are at, and keeping our heads on straight,” he said. “Let our referees do their job, and let the coaches do theirs. We just want to have a good, fun year.”
Coaches gain advice
A couple of weeks ago, Stettler hosted the third of seven sessions in a coaches’ mentorship program.
“Doug Swanson, a sports psychologist originally from Stettler, has been doing a seven-session program for coaches to attend,” Hegberg said.
“We do like programs like this that help both our kids and coaches in development. Swanson has been here twice before in years past. We usually get 30 to 40 coaches out to our event. Swanson has worked with high-calibre athletes.
“For coaches to come and listen to him talk, it will help our coaches progress and benefit from this program, which will in turn help our kids out.”
After the novice tournament this weekend, the atoms go Nov. 22-24, females Dec. 7-8, midgets Jan. 3-5, bantams Jan. 17-19, peewees Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, and mites Feb. 15.