When a parent drops their player off at the rink for a practice or game, whether the player is U6, U18 or somewhere in between, an incredible amount of work has been done behind the scenes, before the player even steps on the ice.
The ice times have been scheduled, as have the referees. The coaches and team staff have completed the requisite courses. The team volunteers are in place. Buses have been booked. Each player has been registered and carded with Hockey Canada. Team and player financials have been processed. Sponsors have been lined up. Team equipment such as socks and jerseys have been ordered and distributed. Tryouts and evaluations have been completed and teams have been formed. All of this has taken place from the GPMHA office, under the watchful eye of Grande Prairie Minor Hockey Executive Director, Lorna LeBlanc.
January 3, 2021 marks the start of a new year, and a milestone for Lorna, who celebrates her 25-year anniversary with the Association.
For many, Lorna is the face of GPMHA, GPAC and PCFAC. She is the cog that makes the wheels turn in that office. For others, she has become a trusted colleague, a mentor and an essential member of our leagues and boards throughout the years. If there is a question about rules, clarification on guidelines, or any type of information - Lorna has always been a phone call or email away.
We sat down with Lorna to get her thoughts and look back on the many years of her dedication and commitment to the young hockey players in the Grande Prairie area.
How did your career with Minor Hockey begin?
I married a fellow from Grande Prairie and moved here from Edmonton in 1996. I applied for a part-time job with GPMHA as a bookkeeper. After a month, they told me I was capable of doing more. I was asked to look after the adult summer hockey league, and it has just taken off from there.
Looking back are there any particular moments or memories that stand out to you?
At the start, I didn’t know anything about hockey at all! Pete McLelland (now Technical Director for PCFAC) was the Head Coach of the Bantam AAA team at 19. He and I were tasked with setting up tryouts in August of 1996. Tryouts were set to start at 5:00. People started showing up an hour early and I couldn’t figure out why. Pete came in and said “where’s everything? Are we ready?” I had no clue. So Pete had to draw a picture of a goalie, 2 defensemen and 3 forwards so I could understand what had to be ready in that hour.
Grande Prairie Minor Hockey ran the Dave Barr Arena from 1993 to 2003 at which time we moved to the Coke Centre. Towards the end of that time, we had a young fellow who was the rink attendant. He was late for work one morning and the skate was about to start, however, there was a huge hole in the ice. I phoned Rick Nordstrom who told me how to patch ice. I went and got my pail of water and was diligently repairing the ice. Unfortunately, I was wearing polyester pants! I was completely stuck to the ice - it was slightly embarrassing.
When we created GPAC in 2003 - it took a good year and a half to get that going. A huge milestone for us.
I’m proud of all the programs we’ve run over the years for the little kids. Such as “First Shift”, which is near and dear to my heart, it was so successful for so many years with numerous kids that participated in that going on to play with GPMHA and some are still there. Any programs that we run for the kids are fun and I really enjoy them. Overall, I enjoy the many relationships I’ve made over the years with volunteers, parents and the players.
What significant changes have you seen over the past number of years?
The biggest thing is the age change. For example, we used to have 6, 7, 8, 9 year-olds that played Initiation A, B, C, D. Then the 15 year-olds went up into Midget. That was a huge year. Body-checking has changed at least 3 times over the years.
I also remember the year of the Graham James incident. I was invited to a function at the College with Sheldon Kennedy and several media people. That was very distressing, but resulted in Speak Out, and then Respect in Sport and Respect in Sport Parent. So it was instrumental in Coach education. Previously Coach Clinics were limited to on-ice development and nothing to do with off-ice. That was a huge change that is still evolving today.
What would most people not know about you or what goes on behind the scenes?
Anybody that comes and spends time in the office is amazed at the amount of work that has to be done in there. We look after 75 teams, which is about 1200 players. A lot of our work centers around getting the players registered and then carded. That is a huge task that starts with tryouts the last week of August and finishes the first week of November with the younger aged players. This year we had 220 eight and nine year-olds to put on 16 different teams. That is time consuming. Additionally, because we offer 6-month payment terms, each month has us processing a lot of registration payments.
We also act as agents for Hockey Alberta here and the All Peace League. I sit on the GPAC and PCFAC Boards, as well as the All Peace League Board. I’ve been on the All Peace Board ever since I started. We used to have two leagues - the Trumpeter league and the All Peace League. The Trumpeter had play-offs and the All Peace didn’t. Rick Nordstrom was instrumental in amalgamating the 2 leagues. The All Peace league now has play-offs. I act as Secretary-Treasurer on the All Peace League, as we are the biggest Minor Hockey league in the association. It is in our best interest to ensure that the league survives and functions properly. I’m proud of the work we do with them.
In 1996, there were 448 players registered. We had 6 arenas at that time - Dave Barr, John E McDonald, Revolution Place had 2 arenas, Clairmont and Grovedale. Now we have 1200 players registered with 7 arenas! Every year we grow. Before we moved into the Coke Centre, we were capped at 918 players for three years. Once the Coke Centre opened, we were able to open up registration to the current 1200 we have now - but we are capped at that number now. The Dave Barr is our dedicated arena and it is our saving grace.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
I would say its the start of the season, going through try-outs. When I first started if I was a Coach, I would have taken all 60 kids that showed up. I could not believe that some kids were “cut”. That has lessened a bit over the years, but I still really feel for the kids that don’t make the teams.
Another challenging part is the contention that comes our way for various reasons - kids don’t make the team, don’t like the ice, don’t like the schedule, etc. Hard to face that kind of contention on a regular basis.
It can be hard to deal with the occasional heartbreak - dealing with the passing of 2 Presidents, people that I grew close to over the years - Marg McAusland, Greg Lancaster to name a couple of people.
Managing staff can be stressful and dealing with other associations can be challenging, but I am proud of the relationships that I’ve built over the years.
Sometimes team staff don’t get treated well by the parent group and don’t return the following year. That is hard, as I fully believe that everybody is doing the best job they can. It can be tough to handle the criticism sometimes.
This year was a challenging year - from March until now.
In contrast to the challenges, what fills your bucket?
It’s the kids. Back in the Dave Barr days, our office was so close to the ice and I became the chief babysitter for the younger ones. Some of those relationships that were formed as little kids, I still have as they’ve grown into adults. I’m always appreciative of the kids that come say goodbye as they leave our program. I also appreciate the relationships and friendships that I have made with a lot of the parents. A lot of the kids that graduated our program are now returning with their own kids and now they’re coaching. The Grammas and Grampas say “are you still here?” A lot of really wonderful relationships I’ve built over the years when you can make a difference in a player’s life, or I can make a difference in a families life where we can find a way to get them to play hockey when they are struggling financially. That sort of thing keeps me going. And I love when little kids come in to get a candy from behind the counter at the minor hockey office.
It is not uncommon to drive by the Coke Center late in the evening in September and your car is the only one in the parking lot. You are a very busy lady!
It is a very busy place! We always welcome volunteers. I’ve noticed a decline in our volunteer base, which is hard on our association, and hard on a team when they don’t get parents to step up. Volunteering in any capacity would help everybody.
The two Technical Directors really help- Ryan Allen with GPAC and Brett Stephenson with GPMHA - they look after everything to do with the Coaches, which takes a lot off my plate.
I enjoy seeing the alumni returning, whether in person or, lately on Zoom calls.
People like Jordan McTaggart who have come back after completing GPMHA, GPAC , Jr. A Storm, and he’s now a Coach and businessman looking after our players. Also Tanya Chomyc (Morgan) who was part of our program and now teaches our players power skating.
I’m grateful for the group in our office - Melanie, Dan, Brett and Ryan. I really appreciate them - they make my job so much easier.
We were also able to reach out to various league and community representatives that have had the privilege of working with Lorna over the years. All were eager to share their warmest thoughts and memories of a person who has devoted so much to this organization, essentially building the foundation of GPMHA.
PAT CORISTINE - PREVIOUS GPMHA PRESIDENT
I was President back when Lorna was hired in 1996. Lorna has been the heart and soul of GPMHA for a quarter century. Many of today’s players are the children of those who were players back when she started. Some might even be grandchildren!
I worked with Lorna for over 20 years, and always knew where to find her - at the Dave Barr Arena, and then the Coke Centre at her desk.
Lorna helped our Boards operate the Dave Barr successfully for many years. Has shepherded the Boards through many adventures including GPAC and PCFAC.
Lorna was on the speed dial for many at the Hockey Alberta office, and served as a huge resource for minor hockey associations through the Peace Country. She was invaluable to me as I served on the Boards of Hockey Alberta and the Hockey Alberta Foundation. Lorna is amazing (a word I don’t often use).
Congratulations, Lorna, on this auspicious anniversary!
CHRIS MILLSAP - GRANDE PRAIRIE JR. A STORM
The best organizations in the world all have one thing in common…a solid foundation upon which the organization is built. GPMHA is one of the finest Hockey Associations in Alberta, and Lorna Leblanc is without question the foundation of hockey in Grande Prairie. The Grande Prairie Storm wishes to express our sincere congratulations to Lorna on 25 years of dedication, determination and success.
PETER BURLETOFF - PRESIDENT, ALL PEACE HOCKEY LEAGUE
Lorna, on behalf of myself and everyone within the All Peace Hockey League, we would like to congratulate you on your milestone. Your dedication and contributions to the APHL and the Trumpeter league prior are the reasons why the league is where it is today. I personally can’t thank you enough. Once again, Congratulations, and thank you for your friendship.
DJ GOLDEN - PRESIDENT, GRANDE PRAIRIE MINOR HOCKEY
Congrats on 25 years Lorna. It has truly been my honor to work on the Minor Hockey board with you over the past 6 years. Your dedication and time spend in GPMHA has been exceptional. Sitting in the rink with you and seeing people come up that are there watching their grand kids and great grand kids play saying “wow, Lorna, you’re still here?” Really shows how many people’s lives you have touched. I’m proud to call you a friend.
TYLER STOJAN - GPAC PRESIDENT
Congratulations Lorna on 25 years! Thank you for the countless hours and dedication to GPAC, minor hockey in Grande Prairie and hockey throughout the zone. Generations of hockey families have benefitted from all of your hard work over the years. Working with you over the past 7 years, it is very clear just how much you care about each and every player in the program, along with seeing their success both on and off the ice. Thank you for everything you do!
KARA SALLIS, PCFAC PRESIDENT
Lorna is such a huge part of our female program. She has always been a supporter of females in hockey from finding us ice when it seems impossible - to making sure that we are on the same level as the males. When try outs come - we look to Lorna. When we want to organize camps - we look to Lorna. We rely on her guidance for rules and regulations. When we have that Saturday night question- without hesitation we get a response. I can’t imagine having this program without Lorna. On a personal level, I can’t imagine having my girls in hockey without Lorna. She is always there for us and every player. I hope members realize the effort she puts into all levels of our hockey programs in GPMHA, GPAC and PCFAC. Thank you Lorna! Happy 25 years!
RICK NORDSTROM - GOVERNOR, PAST PRESIDENT GPAC
A huge milestone! I have had the opportunity to witness first-hand how hard Lorna has worked to build what we have today. I can honestly say that I do not think we would be where we are today without her. Her passion and attention to detail has been a driving force. Lorna has worked with several volunteer boards, Hockey Alberta, City of Grande Prairie and County of Grande Prairie. There have been thousands of families that have come through our program - no easy task and done with a smile!
Lorna was involved with amalgamating the All Peace and Trumpeter leagues almost 20 years ago. Also the front runner in building the male and female elite programs. To this day, she is still the glue that keeps it all together! Thank you, Lorna, for a fantastic job. Well done! You’re like a mother to many of us.
Hoping you continue to work with us for many more years to come - our hockey community needs you!
RYAN ALLEN - GPAC TECHNICAL DIRECTOR
Congratulations Lorna! You have done so much not only for GPAC but for me personally. It is quite amazing to watch you spend the hours and put the work in to making sure GPMHA runs smoothly. You have been a pleasure to work with and I learn from you daily. You have made my role as Technical Director less challenging with your abundant experience and knowledge. Thank you for everything you do.
BRUCE KIRBY - STATISTICIAN - ALBERTA BANTAM AAA HOCKEY
Quite an accomplishment of 25 years at GPMHA. We go back to your first year and have created a great friendship. You have welcomed me every year and every trip I made to Grande Prairie. I made the trip every year, and on my 70th and 75th birthdays, you had an unexpected celebration - “loved those cakes”.
You made GPMHA one of the best associations in Alberta, which speaks to your efforts and love for the sport.
GPMHA is the only organization in my 30 years to present me with a signed Bantam AAA jersey.
I consider Grande Prairie my second home thanks to you and all the people in Grande Prairie
Thank you, Lorna, for your hard work, commitment and dedication to all of the hockey players that have skated on our ice and worn our jerseys.