After nine years of helping to build an incredibly successful and more meaningful female minor hockey program, Lorne Bremner has stepped aside this season to let others take the reign.
He started as a coach for the female peewee team and finished as vice-president, before passing on the reins with great confidence to Shawn Cathers and Jesse Nickel.
It wasn't until female hockey director Deb Novello asked him to coach the female peewee hockey team and to bring along his oldest daughter Rowan, then a second-year atom co-ed player, that he came to realize the potential of the program.
Back then, there were three female teams (back then peewee, bantam, midget) and fewer than 70 players. It now boosts nearly 300 players and 13 teams, including two U18 teams for the first time.
"We were so short of girls that we had to bring Rowan up to have enough players to have a peewee team. We ended up doing some juggling around to have a full team, but it was a struggle to get players back then."
"To be honest with you, I hadn't paid much attention to the female program," he recalls. "When I got called in, I was a little ignorant of the whole thing, but then I realized, we can have an amazing program here, because Cochrane's got money and people, and we have the ability to make this thing work."
That first season, he led the charge to reinstitute a come-try hockey day.
"Rowan originally did a come try hockey way back in the day, but they stopped running it the year after. They gave her gear, made her feel special and that's what got her going.
"So I asked, why don't we still do that? Nobody really had an answer, so we started it up again."
At first, they had a little hockey gear set aside for the event and ran it twice a year. They now have enough gear to dress 30 girls and hold it annually in the spring.
At the beginning of the 2021 hockey season, the female program rebranded as the Jr. Chaos with colours to match those of the AJFHL Cochrane Chaos team. Bremner called it a game-changer.
"Now they all want to be Jr. Chaos. They want to get the bag and the track suit, and put on the blue jersey, because it's a beautiful jersey. We already had momentum and that supercharged it."
Bremner declined a position on the minor hockey board for the first five years and instead focused on promoting the game and doing whatever it took to build the program. He joined the board four years ago and served as VP for one season.
He says they are now one of the largest female programs per capita and one of the fastest growing per capita in Canada.
"When you put the growth into percentage, it's like 600 to 700 per cent growth in nine years, which is phenomenal. So to put that in perspective, we had 70ish girls the first year I got involved and now we have 32 this year just in U-7. When you do the reverse pyramid, that just explodes. We need more ice. That's what it comes down to."
He believes Hockey Alberta needs to take a good look at Cochrane and award them an AA program.
"They should be here already, so the goal for the members coming up is to get us an AA program. We have seven girls on the 13AA team in Airdrie, seven girls driving everyday to Airdrie. We need those AA teams here."
"If they keep their nose to grindstone, it's going to be 500 girls in another three years. We're going to need more ice. Our cap right now is ice."
Besides larger numbers and the rebranding, he takes pride in how the philosophy behind the program has evolved.
"There's been a growth in how we're coaching the girls and in how we're communicating with the girls. It's about empowerment and aspiration and being brave and being powerful.
"I don't think I was like that when I first started. It was a little bit selfish. It was about making sure there were enough girls for my girls to play with and then it turned into how do we make powerful little girls that grow up into powerful young ladies and powerful women one day."
"I'm most proud of seeing that message and seeing how brave the girls play nowadays, taking chances, taking risks. I love seeing that."
He says it was time to let others take up the gauntlet.
"I've been waiting for someone to come up with some younger kids that were willing to take charge, and we've got a couple of them now in Jesse Nickel and Shawn Cathers. They're going to put together an amazing program and they're going to know enough of the younger parent group that it's going to help this thing explode. That's exactly what is needed."
Lorne may no longer be vice-president, but you'll still see him at local arenas. His youngest daughter Holly is a Jr. Chaos and Rowan is now a full-time Cochrane Chaos after finishing minor hockey with the AAA Rocky Mountain Raiders and lacing up for the Chaos when time permitted.
He's a volunteer with the Cochrane Chaos and you'll commonly see him at the gate, promoting the team and female hockey.
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