OLDS — A delegation representing the Olds Grizzlys junior A hockey club came to council with three requests during a meeting earlier this month.
They’d like the team’s assistant coaches receive priority for jobs at the Sportsplex in order to help the Grizzlys’ bottom line. He said the club is coming very close to breaking even financially.
"Obviously I don’t want to take anyone’s job away from them, but if a spot became available and we could make the scheduling work, I think that would really help us as well,” Friends of the Grizzlys president Darcy Dallas said.
The club would also like the Sportsplex itself be expanded to accommodate athlete training facilities and a place to view videos.
Thirdly, Dallas asked if the club could have the first opportunity to book ice time for their spring and summer hockey camps.
Dallas stressed they don’t want to conflict with other ice users, just have first priority for “black ice” that otherwise would sit empty during the day.
He stressed they don’t want to conflict with non-ice surface users like lacrosse or indoor soccer either.
Councillors didn’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to those requests.
They simply received them as information to be considered in the future.
Coun. Heather Ryan understood the thinking behind the request regarding Grizzlys assistant coaches but predicted that would be against the town’s HR (human resources) policy.
Chief administrative officer Michael Merritt went one step further.
“It’s even more than against HR policy, it’s not legal to do that. It would certainly contravene a number of rules and regulations,” Merritt said.
Merritt did say those coaches could well have skills the town could make use of.
"The basis of our hiring is to get the best people in to do the job and it’s not a secondary consideration, it’s the primary consideration. We look at all aspects of inclusiveness as well when we go for hiring people,” he said.
Several councillors expressed interest in the idea of expanding the Sportsplex.
They – and Merritt – noted that a survey is currently being undertaken to examine sports and recreational needs in Olds and Mountain View County as a whole, so possible expansion of the Sportsplex in the coming years may become part of that plan.
Grizzlys head coach Scott Atkinson noted that for the moment at least, the club is renting space in Uptowne Olds for some of its athlete training and video viewing.
Councillors were also impressed with Atkinson’s idea of Olds United – teaming up with Olds minor hockey to build up skills, strength and conditioning for youth at all levels and abilities, not just elite players like the Junior A Grizzlys.
“The one thing I don’t like about hockey is it’s become such an expensive sport. So we are trying our hardest to keep the costs down and doing a lot of these programs and stuff so every kid can afford to play. Girls, boys, it doesn’t matter to us," Dallas said.
"Very similar to the Boys and Girls Club (of Olds and district) we feel that every kid should have the right to play and try to make that as affordable as possible,” Atkinson said.
Dallas said the Grizzlys have created an academy that provides top calibre instruction at a fraction of what parents or guardians would pay to enroll kids in other such academies.
They also operate programs to improve participants’ speed and skating skills.
Atkinson and Dallas stressed their desire to keep the team in Olds and to make it have as many local players as possible.
“I think the ownership group have done a great job of embracing this philosophy and think that we’re already the most local junior A team in probably the world and we’d like to continue on that path,” Atkinson said.
Dallas and Atkinson noted that they’ve linked more closely with Olds Minor Hockey (OMH). In fact, OMH has representation on the Grizzlys board of directors. That also impressed councillors.
“I do think that there was a sort of separation between the Grizzlys and minor hockey a few years ago. And to see you guys coming together and working together right now is tremendous,” Coun. Heather Ryan said.
Coun. Mary Jane Harper said the Grizzlys used to work closely with minor hockey decades ago as well.
"I think it’s pretty good that you’re going back to your roots to do that, so congratulations on that,” Harper said.
Dallas pointed out the club brings in a lot of business to the community as people come here for games, stay in local hotels and motels as well as eat and shop in the community.
Council was also told that minor hockey appears to be dying in smaller communities outside Olds. Minor hockey players from those communities are increasingly being funneled into Olds to play the game.
Mayor Mike Muzychka said as far as he’s concerned it’s very important to keep the Grizzlys in Olds because it’s a huge part of the community. He could remember when they moved from Taber to Olds nearly 40 years ago.