The third annual Athabasca College Hockey Challenge (ACHC) is coming to the Athabasca Regional Multiplex Sept. 21-23.
Seven teams will take part this year, up from five the previous years. Teams participating this year on the men’s side includes the University of Alberta (U of A) Golden Bears, the U of A Augustana Vikings, the NAIT Ooks, and joining them for the first time this year is the Grant McEwan University Griffins. On the women’s side, the U of A Pandas and the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) Huskies will be joined by the NAIT Ooks.
ACHC co-chair Katherine Tremblay said this year’s event is the result of six months of planning.
“It rides on the tails of last year’s event,” Tremblay said. “Right at the end of each tournament, we ask the participating teams to come back for another year, and all the ones from last year agreed.”
ACHC co-chair Kelly Rich said it really is not hard to convince them to return.
“All the teams say they really enjoy coming out to the area,” Rich said. “We pretty much treat them like royalty while they are here.”
Tremblay said anywhere between 100-200 people usually turn out to watch the games each team plays against each other.
“Last year, the ladies’ teams brought in big crowds,” she said. “We also bring in some of the schools for the last couple of years to watch the ladies’ afternoon game, and that pretty much packs the building. The students really enjoy watching it.”
She added that the average age of each hockey team are different between the men and women.
“On the ladies side, they are normally fresh out of high school,” Tremblay said. “So, usually, they are about 18-20 years of age. On the men’s side, they are usually a little bit older, with some of them having played in the junior and WHL leagues, and then head to post-secondary school.”
Tremblay said it is not just fun and games for each of the teams who are there.
“They also work on team-building while they are in Athabasca,” she said. “They also work with the Athabasca Hawks minor hockey league teams. We set up cheer squads among those players, where they get to join the college players on the ice and get to participate in off-ice activities. Their schedules are pretty packed for the three days they are here.”
When it comes to their accommodations, Rich said the three women’s teams will be billeted by members of the community, while the men’s teams will stay at hotels within the community.
Tremblay said it varies as to how many players each billet takes in.
“Some take in two girls, while others take in four like myself,” Tremblay said. “A lot of the billets are not even hockey families, but just community members willing to take them in. It represents an opportunity for any children in the household to see that post-secondary education can also be a sports-related experience.”
Community member Tammy Ledieu is managing the billeting for the U of S Huskies. She said the team asked for her personally when they registered for the event.
“I was involved since the beginning,” she said. “I was born in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, and even though I moved to Alberta when I was three, I still visit family in the area. So when they first asked if I could host some players from the Huskies, it seemed like a natural fit.”
Ledieu said she likes helping out the community by hosting the hockey players.
“I have billeted players from other sports before, the ACHC was the first time I billeted hockey players,” she said. “I get to meet some great people, and it’s fun to have them around.”