MARJ MCAUSLAND (1951- 2017)She is the face of women’s hockey in the North. In a sport dominated by men and boys, Marj McAusland states that she was not a social crusader but none-the-less she is a trail- blazer with a litany of “firsts” to her credit. She has experience and leadership credibility in every aspect of the game: skating teacher, coach, referee, player and director on numerous boards and committees.
As a child she learned to skate on farm dugouts in a northern hamlet that could not afford an ice rink and was too small to form a hockey team. The situation was similar when Marj and her husband first moved to the village of Grovedale fifteen kilometers south of Grande Prairie. Open fires thawed frozen feet and fingers on the shores of lakes and ponds where Marj taught her sons to skate. In numbing cold and on rough and rippled ice the boys learned their first hockey moves, and Marj gained her first taste of teaching and coaching. By the time her sons were competing in minor hockey, Grovedale had acquired a covered arena, an outdoor rink and its own hockey program: a testimony to exemplary community spirit and McAusland leadership. Due in large measure to Marj’s tutoring, her sons, Darren and Rocky excelled in minor and junior hockey. Darren moved on to play professionally in the American Hockey League in the Washington Capital’s organization and later in Europe. Following his Mother’s example, Rocky coaches in the Grovedale Minor Hockey program where his son is learning the game.
Marj’s first formal coaching experience came in 1987 when she accepted an invitation to serve as an Assistant Coach for Rockys, a local AA peewee team. At a Prince George tournament that same year, Marj was surprised to learn that she was the first ever woman to coach in that tournament. It was not the last of the firsts in Marj’s many hockey adventures. When the McAusland boys graduated from minor hockey one might have expected their Mother to take a break from the grueling demands placed on a hockey Mom - but not Marj. In 1995, she responded to girls in Grovedale who wanted to play hockey. Along with recruits from Grande Prairie, she established the first local girl’s team and often played to fill out the roster. During the same year, she organized and coached a Grovedale mixed gender team of 5 -6 year olds that included two nephews. The team competed at the Tournament of Nations in Edmonton. In 2000 Marj became assistant coach for Team Alberta North, an assembly of women that won gold at the Arctic Winter Games in Whitehorse. In 2002, Team Alberta North, with Marj as Head Coach they produced another gold performance at the Arctic Winter Games in Nunavut. In July of 2000, she coached a woman’s team that played in the Vancouver Super Series. For more than a decade now, Marj has coached female hockey at the bantam, midget and senior levels. In 2003- 04 she coached the Grande Prairie Girl’s Bantam team to a silver medal performance in the Provincial tournament. Often summoned to referee games, in 2001 Marj earned her level II certification and regularly officiates.
Administrative and executive roles that Marj has occupied are too numerous to mention and include more “ground breaking firsts”; Director on both the Grovedale and Grande Prairie Minor Hockey Associations, the first woman to be selected as a Commissioner on Grande Prairie’s Minor Hockey Association, two terms as Grande Prairie’s Commissioner on Alberta’s Major Midget Female Hockey League and currently she is President of the Grovedale Minor Hockey Association. With the arrival of a grandson, Marj has experienced a life cycle of sorts. Once more, she is focusing on early development teaching hockey skills to the Grovedale Hot Dogs; (4- 6 year olds) a team that includes her grandson where she promotes fun, fitness and sportsmanship.
Marj’s participation in hockey circles is a reminder of the often unrecognized but invaluable contributions of “Hockey Moms”. In recognition of her contributions she was named “Community Sports Champion” for the 1995 Winter Games and was a flag bearer during the March of Champions Torch Relay. Big Country XX acknowledged Marj as “Big Sport of the Month” in 2003 and the following year the Grande Prairie Hockey Association selected Marj as Senior Referee of the Year.
Marj McAusland - a Grande Prairie Hockey Legend in 2007.
Grande Prairie Hockey Legends is researched, written and presented by Stan and Ron Neufeld