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The long road to ice access

With the majority of minor hockey players hitting the road just to get some practise, St. Albert parents are speaking out about wanting more ice access within the city.

With the majority of minor hockey players hitting the road just to get some practise, St. Albert parents are speaking out about wanting more ice access within the city.

A new survey and report by Active Communities Alberta (ACA), exclusively provided to the Gazette, shows most practises by St. Albert teams happen in neighbouring communities like Bon Accord and Legal, as well as in First Nation communities, although to a lesser degree. Between 2016 and 2018, the number of practises in St. Albert rinks totalled 2,254, according to the report, while 2,652 were held outside of the city.

ACA’s survey, which wrapped up late 2018, asked 151 sports families – the majority of which were from St. Albert – if there was a shortage of recreational facilities in the city. More than 95 per cent of those surveyed agreed there was, as well as a shortage of indoor ice arenas. Nearly all of those surveyed agreed a lack of ice in the city is the main driver for out-of-town practises.

That lack of ice access in St. Albert nearly cost Shauna Hudec her husband and son.

More than a year ago, the two were travelling back to the city from Bon Accord after making the roughly 30-minute drive to attend hockey practise, when a vehicle in the opposite lane swerved into their lane, resulting in a head-on collision. Hudec said the vehicle was a write-off and her husband, who was the head coach at the time, and her son were rushed to hospital.

“My son, luckily, had minor injuries. However, the psychological side took us eight to 10 months,” she said. “He no longer wanted to go to hockey practise in Bon Accord because he thought there would be an accident.”

Hudec explained prior to the collision, the family would travel to Bon Accord at least once a week to attend practise. She said her now 13-year-old son still faces some challenges whenever they drive too fast or move to pass someone.

Her son still wants to play hockey, but only if he can do it closer to home.

“He wants to play and we’re figuring out how to get it going,” she added. “We’ve had team members hit deers on the way home. It’s the risk you take. You’re at highway speeds because we’re coming out far so our accidents are much more severe.”

Hudec’s husband had to take eight months off of work and hasn’t coached since.

Shawn Olmstead, who has two children playing hockey, makes the roughly 40-minute trip to Legal every week in order to attend practise. He said it can be challenging to get his children to their practises, especially when juggling other responsibilities like work.

“You have to directly pick them up from school and leave just to get them in an hour ahead so they’re actually ready for the practise or the game,” he said. “It’s just not feasible. The kids love it, but we’re also putting everybody at risk to make sure they're doing their activities. We have so much space either in St. Albert or the very north side of Edmonton where another facility (could be located), or extend Servus Place or something.”

He said there have been times when he has thought about not attending practises because of the long drive, but that doesn’t happen because of how much his children love the sport.

Being able to have more practises in St. Albert is something John Anderson also wants. With three children playing the sport, he often makes the trip out of town at least twice a week. In a given week, he may have to drive one child to the Calahoo Arena in Sturgeon County and then on another day have to make the trip to Legal.

“Between me and my wife, we just make the jump,” he said. “Even tonight, I have one kid who is on the ice at 5:30 and as soon as we’re done here (in Legal), we go pick her up in St. Albert. It is hectic. You pretty much have to pick up the kids right after school to get out here. Same with Calahoo. I have to pick up other kids because not everybody’s parents get off work or have the day off or have the ability to get out there.”

The lack of ice access isn't a new issue in St. Albert, but ACA, a non-profit organization, is planning to try and address the demand. The city and ACA are looking to pen an agreement to build a multi-million-dollar facility. The dollar figure ranges from $40 million to $60 million, depending what additions are added onto the project – for example, a pool – and who is involved.

The original agreement, a memorandum of understanding (MOU), stated the sports campus had to be built in St. Albert and didn’t include county land, which is still years away from official annexation and requires the approval of the province’s Municipal Government Board. That changed back in December, thanks to a motion by Coun. Jacquie Hansen.

The city is willing to pitch in up to $20 million for the project on the condition that the federal and provincial governments contribute $10 million each. The proposed facility would provide space to many sports groups, including ice space, gym space and areas for pickleball.

In November, Active Communities Alberta spokesperson Matt Bachewich told councillors the shortage of land within St. Albert limits the group’s ability to proceed. Including annexed lands would ensure the facility “is built in close proximity to St. Albert residents while providing more flexible and timely location options,” he said at the time.

Jeff Labine

About the Author: Jeff Labine

Jeff Labine joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2018. He writes about city hall and municipal issues. Follow him on Twitter @jefflabine.
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