Despite an organized protest Monday night, Calgary’s largest minor hockey association will be merged with two others.
In a decision posted on their website, Hockey Calgary announced that Northwest Warriors (NWW), which currently comprises 800 members, will merge with the Bow River and Crowfoot associations starting in the 2020-21 season.
“Those three organizations all have declining numbers and have been declining over the last three years. . . and those three organizations are landlocked with little future growth,” said Hockey Calgary president Kevin Kobelka.
He added that NWW had much more ice space than the other two, enabling more access to ice for Bow River and Crowfoot.
The decision was part of a controversial boundary review, last done in 2015, with the stated goal of balancing uneven distribution of players across Calgary. Kobelka said that the changes would result in each association having an average of 900-1000 players.
Before the decision, NWW spoke out against the organization being potentially split up by Hockey Calgary as part of its controversial boundary review.
Jim and Shannon Jefferies are hockey parents deeply involved in the association: Their two sons play in it, and Jim is a board member who volunteers as a coach.
Jim was “shocked and disappointed” by the move.
NWW said they were caught off guard by these changes, believing that their size made them exempt.
“It really blindsided us,” said Shannon.
“There ended up being 51 [boundary change] proposals, and one of the top three is the disbandment of the Northwest Warriors.
“We were given the top three on Tuesday of last week.”
Kobelka blamed poor communication on NWW’s part.
“At no time was Northwest ever told they were exempt. At no time have we ever once mentioned or communicated we would be eliminating the Northwest Warriors,” he said.
“We have had ongoing communications with the executives of the Northwest Warrior program since December 2017. Whether they communicated that to their members, that is their decision.”
Jim, however, accused Hockey Calgary of throwing together a new map at the last minute.
“I can tell you the maps that I’ve seen, and the original 11-association map that I saw, as of last Tuesday at the Northwest Warriors operations committee, clearly did not show the Northwest Warriors, it was clearly labeled Crowfoot Coyotes and Bow River Bruins.”
“I feel that the pressure, the rally that happened tonight, everything that we’ve done has contributed to this 11th-hour merger map.”
The association put out a petition on Change.org calling for NWW to stay together, with more than 1,500 signatures. They also held a rally outside Max Bell Arena at 5:30 p.m., shortly before the Hockey Calgary meeting.
Prior to the decision, NWW also publicly argued that the process was too opaque.
In a letter sent to Hockey Calgary, NWW said that while the review started with the intent of balancing associations, “it is now unclear whether there is an ideal size or a primary objective that has anything to do with size.”
“When the boundary review started there were a few associations that fit the ‘ideal size’; a year later, Northwest Warriors is one of just two associations close to that ideal size, stated as 850 participants,” continued the letter.
NWW says that splitting up would result in its families having to drive further and have less ice access.
Instead, NWW proposes in their letter to split up two smaller associations, which they say will improve ice access and reduce travel time. NWW also argues that this will lead to attrition, not growth, as experienced by the lacrosse association alignments.
Shannon said that the fight to keep NWW together was about more than just hockey.
“Even as a large association, there’s always going to be kids you know on that team, because you’ve grown up with them,” she said.
Her husband seconded the sentiment.
“You can tell the [NWW] community is really tight,” he said.
“I would personally feel heartbroken if it were dissolved, because when my kids started playing hockey it’s been Warriors ever since.
“My children are turning 8 and 10-and-a-half, and wear the jersey proud – we are Warriors.”
Reached shortly after the decision, Jim said that his two children, who attended the rally, were bawling.
“I have no idea how Bow River or Crowfoot is taking this either, because it says a merger, it does not say that any one association is staying alive with their name.
“There’s a lot of unanswered questions at this point.”
Hockey Calgary, however, believes the change will work.
“We think that [NWW] will fully integrate with that area, and they will continue to evolve,” said Kobelka.
The move will reduce the amount of Calgary associations from 15 to 11.