The North Central Hockey League’s (NCHL) former Eckville Eagles are now officially the Lacombe Senior AA Generals.
The decision was made by the league Nov. 8
“It’s a good feeling to be able to move forward with the name – no more back and forth with the league and Hockey Alberta,” said co-General Manager and Head Coach Reed Watts. “To have it done is a big weight off my shoulders and big weight off Jared (Williams’) shoulders as well.”
Taking on the Generals’ name, however, wasn’t an easy decision. They looked into the history of hockey in the community and considered becoming the Lacombe Merchants, while some felt they should use the well-established Rockets name used by the Lacombe Minor Hockey Association.
They did internal polling, speaking with the ownership group and core members of the team, as well as some of the players they were recruiting, not to mention public polling on Facebook and Twitter. Ultimately, regardless of anyone’s particular feelings, the Generals won out on name recognition and business-end front.
“One of the factors was the branding already done in Lacombe. The recency of the Generals in Lacombe, the name recognition within hockey circles, especially senior hockey circles, was so fresh and apparent it was hard to ignore,” he said. “Some of the corporate sponsors we got, they preferred the Generals’ name, obviously due to the recency and success it had…We think it bodes well.”
Another factor was the ability to procure the use of the AAA Generals’ jerseys, given a new set of sublimated jerseys can cost roughly $8,000, while twill, which they’re currently using, can range from $10,000 to $15,000 for two sets.
The name change, however, wasn’t without some confusion during the application process which resulted in Watts being suspended.
“There was an error on my behalf. When you apply for a name change, you use Hockey Alberta’s website and a name change request…you have to submit it twice and I didn’t realize that,” he said. “We played our first game in the second week of October and we went ahead with wearing the jerseys. We weren’t referring to ourselves as the Generals – we were just referring to ourselves just as Lacombe. That’s where the confusion and fighting started.”
On Oct. 29, the NCHL sent a letter to the team “advising them to cease using Lacombe Generals branding until they had applied for and received approval from Hockey Alberta,” but Nov. 2, they team once again donned the Generals jerseys and according to a league release that said they referred “to themselves as such in both print and game commentary.”
Watts’ suspension was originally indefinite, until the league received the name change application on Nov. 4. The application was approved Nov. 8, at which time the suspension was changed to a single game which has now been served.
The string of bad luck, however, didn’t quite end there.
With Watts off the bench for the game against Blackfalds Nov. 3, the team was then caught with an ineligible coach on the bench, and had to forfeit their 6-0 win over the Wranglers, which saw their record fall to 1-5-0-0 on the season – dead last in the NCHL standings.
Last weekend, they also dropped a 7-1 loss to the NCHL’s newest team in the now AA Fort Saskatchewan Chiefs. Chance Abbott has the lone Generals goal, while goaltender Mackenzie Engel faced 43 shots and made 36 saves, earning third star of the game.
“They played poorly. We shouldn’t take away from Fort Sask – they’re playing some hot hockey right now. They’re winners of three straight and they’ve beat two of the (top teams),” said Watts. “The boys just did not have it Sunday.”
They’ll look to rebound this Saturday against a team also struggling to find consistency and wins in the Bonnyville Sr. Pontiacs (1-5-0-1), and Watts said they expect to have a deep lineup, and maybe even a full roster for the first time this season.
“Bonnyville’s got a good team. When we were in Eckville, the year they won provincials we beat them out in the semifinals in a five-game winner-take-all series. They’ve got a lot of those players back so it’ll be a good game,” he said.
The Lacombe AA Generals will also play on the road Nov. 30 against the Red Deer Rustlers at Servus Arena as part of Roger’s Hometown Hockey Day festivities. The game was originally scheduled to be held at the Penhold Multiplex but has since been moved.
“Ron (MacLean) and Tara (Sloan) will be set up there. It’d be good to get a bunch of Lacombe jerseys out to be there – Rockets and whatever else,” said Watts.
Doors will open at 8 p.m. Puck drop will be at 8:45 p.m.
The Blackfalds Senior Wranglers (2-4-0), meanwhile, are coming of a bye week and will play on the road Nov. 23 against the Westlock Warriors at the Rotary Spirit Centre at 8:30 p.m. They will return home to host the Bonnyville Sr. Pontiacs Sunday, Nov. 24 at the Blackfalds Multi-plex Arena at 3:30 p.m.