When it came time to decide where the Laumbach sisters would play hockey this season, it was a family decision.
Reece, a 16-year-old defenceman, and Payton, a 14-year-old forward, both played for the Lloydminster Ice Cats bantam AAA hockey team in 2014-15. Reece was the teams captain, while Payton was the teams leading scorer in both goals and point with 17 goals and 29 points in 31 games.
They caught the attention of the Warner Hockey School, who extended an offer for both young ladies to play for the Warriors this season. The family would visit the hockey academy back in May of last year, at a time when Lloydminster didn’t have a coach in place at the midget or bantam levels.
With the uncertainty of midget hockey in Lloydminster at the midget level as well, the family made the decision for the sisters to attend the academy to further their hockey career, which came with it plenty of benefits that couldn’t be overlooked.
“Once they met the coach and seen the facilities, they were really excited about the opportunity,” said father Randy Laumbach. “It was completely their option to go. We would definitely back them. The final decision was once we went down there ... and met the coach, we knew the coaching was second to none at this level. And the competition at this level is as high as you are going to play at this age group.”
Warner head coach Mikko Makela, who has been with the academy for nine years, was one of the main reasons the Laumbach’s decided to make the move to the hockey academy, as the family knew he offered the best coaching opportunity for the sisters.
Add in more ice time, more practices during the week, increased off-ice training and higher competition at showcase tournaments and in the Junior Women’s Hockey League, Warner offered a greater opportunity that the sisters would be noticed by school scouts and earn a scholarship.
This season, Reece would have played for the Lloydminster Steelers midget AAA team, while Paytn would have been a front runner to be the top goal scorer in the league with the Ice Cats for another year. Instead, Payton, a Grade 9 student, is ninth in team scoring with six goals and 15 points in 35 games played as the youngest player with Warner, while Reece, a Grade 10 student, has played in 32 games.
The decision did come with a hefty price tag, as tuition for Warner is set at $33,000 per player. But Laumbach said it was a family sacrifice financially to put their kids into a hockey academy, a decision that is not for everyone. But it is also a sacrifice for the players, who are moving away from home for the first time and are put into a high competitive environment, away from their friends, familiar teachers and their old teammates.
“It was a bit of a risk and definitely a bit of a burden for everybody when you are talking that kind of money,” said Laumbach. “It has helped them a lot hockey wise and they are doing good in school, so there is no regrets on the girls part or our part for this season. It has been a great experience and it has helped them focus on what is out there and what is the next step.”
Warner is no stranger in getting top players from Lloydminster to join their academy. Delaney Ross, who led the Alberta Major Midget Female Hockey League two seasons ago with 78 points, was the leader in scoring with Warner in her first year with the academy last season, scoring 62 goals and 106 points in 62 games. She currently leads this year’s team with 44 goals and 75 points.
Kennedy Ganser, a close friend to Laumbach’s who advocated for the academy, is also in her second season with Warner where she has been in the top three in scoring and is currently the captain of the team. She committed to the University of Alberta this season.
But in each case, which includes the Laumbach’s, the decision to go to an academy was a family decision, one that wasn’t made in haste, but rather looked at from the perspective of getting the girls better on-ice training, while also making sure their schooling remained a priority.
It was also only a one year deal to start, as Laumbach said the plan is to finish the season at Warner and then reevaluate over the spring to decide if the girls will return to the academy or play back in Lloydminster. Considering the family lives in Wainwright, travel costs will be higher, so what it comes down to is what Lloydminster will be offering next year in terms of coaching, on and off ice development and quality of play, and whether-or-not they have a team after Hockey Alberta decides what to do with the AAA program next month.
“We have always approached this as taking it one year at a time,” said Laumbach. “For us, if the girls are going to do this, they have to be 100 per cent committed. Whether it is AAA or academy, it is a lot of money either way and we know that. Of course the academy is more expensive, so if we are going to commit to that, they have to be all in. That goes for any level.
“We are definitely going to take a look at this once Hockey Alberta makes their announcement and look at the future of where this is going and what our girls want to do.”