Four years after the then-Bentley Generals approached Lacombe city council in desperate search of a new place to call home, the organization returned to council chambers as Allan Cup champions.
On Tuesday, the team and the 2019 Allan Cup Host Committee were formally congratulated by Lacombe city council during their regular meeting, not only for winning their fourth national championship – and first under their new Lacombe name – but for their success in hosting the tournament overall.
“When I was in council chambers, I couldn’t help but think of ‘Field of Dreams’ because we came in here four years ago asking if we can move here, and here we are being celebrated and championed for our cause,” said Generals General Manager Jeff McInnis.
“It’s kind of surreal to think it has come this far.”
It hasn’t been an easy journey. Although the Generals are no strangers to being national champions, McInnis says each has had their own nuance and this championship was especially hard to capture.
“There were times when we were dressing really thin lineups. We lost three games in a row, and everybody thought we were over, we’re doomed….and we dug ourselves out of those low points,” he said. “To come out on top is quite an accomplishment for our group, our coaching staff, our players and all the people that run it. It’s heavy.
“You’d think we’d get desensitized to it, but we’re not.”
The Generals journey to becoming Allan Cup champions in 2019 does go back to that council meeting four years ago. The team finished out their 2015 season in the city, still under their Bentley banner, but it soon became evident the city was ready to embrace them as their own. In 2016, they formally became the Lacombe Generals.
It’s a relationship that has only grown stronger since.
“It’s the best – there’s really no other way to say it. Any other senior hockey team would be envious, as I keep saying, of the love affair between the city and the team,” said McInnis. “People are getting it here – they understand it. We kept trying to get someone to believe in us all those years…Lacombe has bought in. I’m seeing councilors that are fans – I think they were skeptical when we first came here.
“For those who weren’t a hockey fan or an amateur fan, we’ve showed them it’s worthy, it’s worthwhile.”
In some ways, hosting the tournament was as much about showing off the community as it was about the team and senior hockey itself. Complete with a Molson Canadian Hockey House with live bands, catered dinners, and intermission chuckwagon races where minor hockey and ringette players provided the horsepower – and, of course, the hockey itself – there was no shortage of entertainment during the week.
Combined with the arena’s proximity to hotels, restaurants and other amenities, fans, other team organizations and players alike said they were impressed – with some believing it may have been the best Allan Cup tournament in recent history, if not ever.
Despite its success in Lacombe, however, it could very well be the last of its kind.
Although the 2020 tournament has been awarded to Hamilton-Dundas, its future beyond that is uncertain. In fact, the Generals are hoping the tournament will soon be a thing of the past and are advocating for a move to a playoff series format for the Allan Cup, similar to how the Stanley Cup is awarded.
McInnis said although the tournament in Lacombe was a success, and may have looked sustainable, it isn’t.
“People really enjoy our playoff games – the more playoff games we can play, the better our hockey is and I truly believe that,” he said. “I’ve learned in 20 years that’s when people pay attention to us, give us their time and our hockey needs more playoff games.”
Financial viability and senior hockey parity are also factors in their reasoning behind wanting a change.
Teams have opted not to play for the cup because of costs associated with travelling to wherever the tournament is held each year – something the Generals went through two years ago when they earned a berth into the Allan Cup tournament in Bouctouche, N.B. and had to start a GoFundMe campaign to send the team – and have volunteers and staff drive hockey equipment all the way across the country rather than have it flown with the players.
A change to a playoff series would mean successful teams would be able to host Allan Cup games in their own arena.
“What a magnificent thing – that gives every team a chance to go on a run,” he said. “I’m hoping the series play – they did it for 77 years – will bring our hockey back.
“All those playoff games gets a fever going, gets a passion going and maybe we could grow the hockey.”