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It’s a blow to women’s hockey – but one organizers hope is only temporary.
For the first time since 2003, there won’t be a female division at the Mac’s AAA Midget Hockey Tournament. The organization had to suspend the girl’s division due to the lack of interest from Alberta-based teams, according to tournament vice-president Larry Herbison.
“It’s suspended – not eliminated – but we just simply don’t have enough teams to support the division this year,” he said, adding the division featured 15 teams for many years before dwindling to 10 several years ago and just eight last year.
There’s several different factors cited by the organizers, with one being with the reduction in the number of female teams of that calibre in the province, which at one point was a dozen and is now just six.
Another factor: The number of other tournaments happening throughout the year, with a main rival being the Notre Dame tournament.
“We need to rethink our position with the female division to see what we can do to make it more appealing to come to ours instead of those other tournaments. We definitely don’t want to lose the female division and we have every intention of bringing it back.”
The Mac’s AAA Midget Tournament starts on Boxing Day each year and just celebrated its 40th year last Christmas.
While the female division may be suffering, the male divisions is thriving with 25 teams attending the tournament annually. In fact, organizers turn teams away due to the high demand.
Organizers said they tried to make amendments to the tournament schedule that would help make it more viable for the province’s female teams but they didn’t hear back from teams in time. Herbison said the decision was made now to give the participating teams enough notice to find other tournaments for the season.
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Long-time Mac’s volunteer and female hockey player Adrienne Fedrigo said the tournament is a great experience for girls and one she thinks will be sorely missed this year.
“The exposure and representation of female players is imperative for the advancement of the sport and individual players. It’s always exciting to play for a large crowd, in front of scouts, family and friends,” she told LiveWire Calgary.
“However, the Mac’s is a great family event with a strong national and international presence that highlights the amazing talents of the players. We hope the female teams within the province will reconsider participating and be apart of the tournament again in the future.”
When LiveWire Calgary reached out to the Okotoks-based Rocky Mountain Raiders, back-to-back defending Mac’s champions on the female side, Paul Jardin responded and was surprised by the news. Jardin has spent the past few years running the Raiders’ social media accounts.
“It’s definitely a huge blow to girl’s hockey and a big blow to the kind of opportunities they get,” he said, adding he’d heard rumblings but is still surprised the division has been suspended.
Jardin says the tournament provided countless opportunities for female players, much like the one his daughter Laura received last year. Laura Jardin, now 18, played for the Raiders for the past two seasons and last year received a scholarship from the Mac’s tournament that she turned into an enrollment at McGill University – where she’s playing her first game this weekend as a rookie.
“The tournament was a great way for the girls to play on the Saddledome ice, which is a big reward for them and one of those things you just want to do once in your life. It’s not good news.”
Herbison echoes the disappointment felt by the volunteers and the players and he hopes to find a solution.
“I think it’s a huge setback for female teams as this is a quality tournament that has been around for 40 years,” he said.
“Personally, I am very disappointed and I think everybody that works with the tournament is disappointed that it’s not going to happen … but we have every intention of bringing it back next year and we will see what we can do over the course of the year to get it back.”