RED DEER – The 2023 hockey season was an eventful one. Hockey Alberta wants to highlight all the amazing athletes, coaches, volunteers, teams and people that are intertwined into the fabric of the sport across the province.
To celebrate the achievements of those who made an impact throughout the season, Hockey Alberta wanted to recognize 10 stories from this past year that represent what the game of hockey should be about in this year’ version of the Year in Review.
Without further ado, here are those impactful stories from the year 2023.
Hayleigh Craig’s journey to USports ran through the National Women’s U18 Championship
Hayleigh Craig is a key member on the fifth ranked Alberta Golden Pandas hockey team, but before she was trying to help the Pandas win its ninth USports national championship she was competing for Team Alberta at the 2019 National Women’s U18 Championship in Morden and Winkler, Manitoba. The female game has taken a huge leap even since 2019 in the province, as Craig’s team finished sixth at the event, while the 2023 edition of the U18 squad qualified for the bronze medal game. Female hockey is one of the fastest growing sports in Alberta with nearly 8,000 females participating in the sport. There are several initiatives to continue that growth, such as Female Hockey Day, Global Girls Game and World Girls Ice Hockey Weekend.
Hockey Alberta giving an assist
Hockey Alberta believes everybody should have the opportunity to play hockey. The Hockey Alberta Foundation raised or donated more than $1.8 million that was used to support over 80 communities and programs across the province for the 2022-23 season. These programs included: the 11.4 Maltreatment Campaign, school programs, Female Hockey Day, Every Kid Every Community (EKEC) grants, Future Leaders, Hockey Alberta Member Grant, Who’s Hockey and volunteer recognition. Some examples of where these funds are going: Hockey Alberta raised $150,000 for the Every Kid Every Community program while the foundation also awards a maximum of $20,000 per member organization as part of the Hockey Alberta Member Grant – supported by the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation. Hockey Alberta also donated $90,000 towards Andrew Ladd’s 1616 campaign, a 16-week mental, physical and social wellbeing experience for youth hockey teams. The Hockey Alberta Foundation supports those who need us, those who lead us and those who came before us.
When Connection Meets Opportunity
Once his playing career was over, 23-year-old Brett Kramers started his coaching journey when he was 18, becoming the goaltending coach with South Side Athletic Club. After going through Hockey Alberta’s development programs, five years later he is the youngest head coach in the Alberta Elite Hockey League (AEHL) assuming the role of bench boss with the U17 AAA Fort Saskatchewan South Fort Chev Rangers. Kramers was given the chance to advance quickly due to the opportunities available to young coaches in the province. Future Coaches and Future Leaders programs are designed to develop and train young coaches who have shown an interest in the position. Coaches can progress to volunteer coaching positions for various Spring Showcase events which are core Hockey Alberta Elite Development program that provides athletes, staff and on-ice officials an opportunity to grow for the next step in their hockey journey.
Rob Virgil and Loren Krukowski recognized as Hockey Alberta Life Members
Hockey Alberta celebrated two new Life Members in 2023 – Loren Krukowski and Rob Virgil – recognizing their decades of volunteer service to minor hockey in the province. Life Member is the highest and most prestigious honour that may be bestowed by Hockey Alberta, and recognizes the integral roles played by thousands of volunteers across the province in ensuring that amateur hockey operates on a daily basis at the grassroots regional and provincials levels. Krukowski started his volunteer work in Warburg; Virgil in Edmonton. A candidate for Life Member will have enhanced the recognition of Hockey Alberta at the National or International level, and/or made an outstanding contribution to the development of hockey in Alberta.
Everyone needs a Budd
Selected as Hockey Alberta’s 2023 Player of the Year presented by ATB, goaltender Ryley Budd made more of an impact than just his .916 save percentage. The 15-year-old from Calgary, who played in the Alberta Elite Hockey League, made waves off the ice when he teamed up with EnerCorp where he donated $1 for every save and $10 for every shutout to donate to HEROS Hockey. The Hockey Alberta Player of the Year is given out annually to a player who has achieved significant achievements, performances and contributions within amateur hockey during the current season, and is one of the Hockey Alberta Awards presented annually to deserving recipients across the province.
2023 Induction Class for the Alberta Hockey Hall of Fame
The 2023 Induction Class for the Alberta Hockey Hall of Fame highlighted two areas of significant growth in our sport.
Karen Kost was honoured for the 34 years she spent as a hockey referee, linesperson, mentor, instructor and administrator. She officiated at almost every level of hockey nationally and internationally and was the first female official in Canada to earn Level 5 certification. Officials recruitment and development is a key responsibility for Hockey Alberta – ensuring every game across the province has trained and certified officials, and providing opportunities for qualified officials to work at higher levels, including world championship events.
The Edmonton Chimos, from 1983-1993, were honoured for their decade of excellence in women’s hockey. Over the course of the decade, the Chimos earned three gold medals, four silver medals, and three bronze medals at the national championships, marking not only their dominance but also their leadership in the growth of women’s hockey in Alberta.
You belong, Maltreatment does not
Racism has no place in our game. After overhearing racial slurs during one of their games, the Hinton Havocs decided to act, including entering Hockey Alberta’s Maltreatment Awareness contest (in partnership with the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation), to bring awareness to Maltreatment happening in the game. Eliminating maltreatment from hockey is a significant focus for Hockey Alberta. November 2022 saw the inaugural Maltreatment Awareness Day (11.4 Day), and the day was recognized again in 2023 with Hockey Alberta partnering with 17 AAA and AA programs around the province to circulate ‘These Don’t Belong’ banners. Hockey Alberta is also accepting applications for Hockey Alberta’s Local Hockey Leaders EDI Grant, to help minor hockey organizations across the province in how they deal with equity, diversity and inclusion challenges. The program provides up to $5,000 in funding towards general EDI fundamentals training, or a specific awareness and education project.
A family affair
Hockey is a family affair for the Obobaifo brothers. After their parents moved to Alberta from Nigeria, Charles, Aaron, and Kyle fell in love with the game and the sibling love and rivalry followed. The trio of brothers have been mainstays in Hockey Alberta’s Team Alberta development programs, with Charles participating in the Prospects Cup and Alberta Cup; Kyle in the Prospects Cup in 2022; and Aaron at the Canada Winter Games. Team Alberta programming is crucial to the development of players in Alberta. The Prospects Cup and Alberta Cup features opportunities for minor hockey players to be identified for potential positions at higher level events such as the WHL Cup, Canada Winter Games, World U17 Hockey Challenge, World Junior A Challenge and World Junior Hockey Championships. On the female side, the Alberta Challenge is a core Hockey Alberta Female Development program, providing players, coaches, therapists, equipment managers, administrators and referees an equal opportunity to discover the great qualities of competitive hockey.
Just go for it
Sadie Makokis knows a thing or two about representing Team Alberta. Makokis is a freshman defender for the University of New Hampshire Wildcats, and was able to end her minor hockey career on a positive note. During the 2022-23 season, she laced up the skates for her province at the Canada Winter Games and at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championship where she represented the Saddle Lake Cree Nation. In 2023 Hockey Alberta partnered with the Indigenous Sport Council of Alberta to oversee and coordinate the selection process for the coaches and players representing the province of Alberta at the championships. It also includes recruiting and selecting the Indigenous coaching staff, registration and selection camp for the players looking to participate in the tournament, team training, and designing the uniforms.
National Volunteer Week: Ben Woodlock
Teenager Ben Woodlock proves that volunteers can come in all ages. After having undergone two kidney transplants and his small stature, his future playing the sport he loved became uncertain. Insert Geoff Giacobbo, the head coach for the AEHL’s U15 St. Albert Raiders Sabres who approached Ben to join him on the staff last season as an apprentice coach. Volunteers are an integral part of the sport. Janet Fairless (Grimshaw) was named the 2023 Hockey Alberta Volunteer of the Year. Fairless has volunteered with Hockey Alberta for over a decade in a variety of roles including serving on the Minor Administration Committee, volunteering with Junior B teams, and has been a registrar with senior male and female teams. Hockey Alberta has recognized several volunteers for their hard work and dedication to the game of hockey.