Red Deer Bandits play host to long-running tourney

This past weekend Red Deer was ground zero for some of the best senior women’s hockey in this neck of the woods as the Red Deer Bandits hosted the longest running women’s hockey tournament in the country, the Western Shield which has been running 50-plus years.

That’s about 20 years older than the average age of the players on the 10 teams from four provinces which took part but that landscape appears to be changing according to Bandits player Jenn Lunn.

“In the last couple of years it’s just exploding with university kids coming back and playing on these teams,” said the former RDC Queens player. “I mean an example is us playing the Edmonton Velocity team. I looked through that roster and having worked for Hockey Alberta for a few years, almost every single kid on that team had come through our Team Alberta program.”

Lunn says teams in Edmonton and Calgary have an advantage when it comes to recruiting players from the college and university squads in those centres and some of those players may be from Central Alberta which makes it tough.

“Most kids from the Red Deer area, they go off to university in Edmonton or Calgary or where ever they go and they stay there. There aren’t many that come back.”

She also pointed out with the advent of the junior women’s team in the region it has made that program stronger but a team like the Bandits pays the price in some way.

On the flip side of the issue is the fact some players do stick around for quite some time. Lunn says there are a handful of her RDC teammates from about a dozen years ago who are still with the Bandits and she added team captain Lori Krause to the list.

“So the Bandits have been around for about 28 years, I think she’s almost been there that entire time and just can’t leave, doesn’t want to leave,” said Lunn.

Another thing senor women’s teams have to deal with that the men don’t is when a player decides it’s time to start a family and then a real juggling act begins with trying to deal with raising kids and getting to practice or games.

Lunn says when it comes to the women’s game most of the players will play until a doctor says they can’t and for many they stay at a competitive level for longer than their male senior hockey counterparts.

Part of that may have to do with the absence of the big, thunderous hits in the men’s game, although there is plenty of ‘incidental’ contact when the ladies take to the ice.

She would like to see the game grow for women and figures more exposure to the product, combined with an increased interest in coaching these female teams might be the ticket to draw more players to the rink.

The pieces are in place now so she feels the future is brighter for this brand of hockey but more needs to happen.

“Not just dads coaching their children through, it’s getting that education and stronger coaches that I think can change those skills,” she said. “I’ve been seeing that happen, officiating as well. With some of those girls’ teams I watch their skill level is getting so much better than it ever was when I played or was coaching. I think it’s there, it’s definitely coming. We’ll reap the benefits of it probably a few years from now.”