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Lac La Biche to ice a junior A hockey team

Junior A level hockey coming to Lac La Biche for 2024-25 season

Elite hockey players between the ages of 16 and 21 will be calling Lac La Biche's Bold Center their home ice for the 2024-25 season of the National Junior Hockey League (NJHL).

A three-year partnership was signed this week between Lac La Biche County, the NJHL and an ownership group that will run the junior A Lac La Biche men's team.

The NJHL has no affiliation with the existing AJHL, and operates as an independent body, says league representative Derek Prue.

The NJHL was formed last May and currently has six teams from across the province including the Edson Eagles, the Fox Creek Ice Kings and the Vulcan Rampage. The league is an off-shoot of the GMHL — The Greater Metro Hockey League — that currently operates in the Greater Toronto Area in Ontario. As that league expanded, taking in rural Ontario communities, there was a natural progression to open up leagues in other areas of the country. The Lac La Biche franchise will be the NJHL's  seventh team, says Prue, explaining the concept behind the league as a franchise of hockey development training centres that play competitive hockey.

He says the league doesn't pretend to be the AJHL, and instead offers "a junior A environment for players who want to go to the next level."

The league and individual teams operate on a "tuition-based model" like a hockey academy where players who are recruited, scouted and selected pay to benefit from the professional coaching and training.

"We have full-time, professional paid coaches and management teams — it's top-notch development," says Prue, adding that while each franchise will offer opportunities to local skaters with the right skills, they can also draw players from around the province, across the country or around the world.

"We do a lot of local recruiting. The guys in and around Lac La Biche are first for us, but we also have players coming from across Canada and the world — I think every team we have right now has a European player or two on it."


Recruiting and scouting has started for the coming season, and a spring training camp is planned in th next few months.

"You'll probably be seeing some announcements and new signings in the near future," Prue said, also explaining that coaches and managers are also expected to be named soon.

So why Lac La Biche?  Why not, says Prue, who is originally from the Stony Plain area.

"I think being in rural Alberta around hockey, you just know which is a hockey town and a hockey community," he said, adding that the recent attempts to revive junior B hockey, the 10-year history of the Portage College Voyageurs and the Bold Center facility are all big factors. "These are good programs and it's a supportive community ... there's synergy."

Bold Choice

The Bold Center itself, says Lac La Biche ownership group member Jake Hagerfeldt, is as big of a draw as having former NHL Stanley-Cup winning Edmonton Oiler Kevin McLelland as the local college team's head coach and having locally-coached players currently skating in the WHL and other elite levels of the game. 

"Having a facility like that, it's going to mean no issues for recruiting; the ice, the gym and the aquatic centre that's coming ... and it's only two hours from Edmonton — players are going to enjoy it," he said.

With an influx of young players, both Prue and Jagerfeldt say community support is vital. Whether it comes in the form of team sponsorships, accommodation help for players, employment or schooling, they say the community support is just as important as the on-ice support the players will get.

"To be successful, we need people from the community," said Prue.

More details on the team — including the possibility of a "Name-the-Team Contest" — as well as franchise opportunities, coaching appointments, community input and training camps will be announced as they become available, says Prue.

In recent weeks, news about Hockey Canada- sanctioned junior hockey leagues like the AJHL and independent leagues like the NJHL and the BCHL have grabbed sports headlines, with teams opting out of the sanctioned leagues due to stringent policies and procedures..


Rob McKinley

About the Author: Rob McKinley

Rob has been in the media, marketing and promotion business for 30 years, working in the public sector, as well as media outlets in major metropolitan markets, smaller rural communities and Indigenous-focused settings.
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