Lacombe Generals withdrawing from ACHW

The Lacombe Generals celebrate their 2019 Allan Cup victory at the Gary Moe Auto Group Sportsplex in Lacombe, Alta. on Saturday, April 13, 2019. Ashli Barrett / Lacombe Globe

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The Lacombe Generals 2019 Allan Cup victory has now become their swan song.

After 20 years in the league, four national championships, 13 Allan Cup appearances and 10 finals appearances, not to mention numerous provincial championships, the Generals hanging up their skates and withdrawing from the Allan Cup Hockey West (ACHW), and senior hockey play altogether.

The decision followed the Rosetown Redwings announcement they’d leave the ACHW on May 10, leaving the league with just the Stony Plain Eagles, Innisfail Eagles and Lacombe Generals.

Generals General Manager Jeff McInnis placed the blame on the “broken” state of senior hockey.

“There’s a systemic infrastructure problem. The current set of rules isn’t conducive to teams existing – every year we lose teams. This past year we lost two in our league. There’s no other league in the world with only three teams,” he said.

“This is the end of the AAA Generals – until a date down the road that the landscape has been corrected and changed. We don’t know if that will ever happen.”

Since 1999 when the then-Bentley Generals entered the Chinook Hockey League, which became the ACHW, 40 teams have folded. All AAA B.C. teams met their end, resulting in the loss of the McKenzie Cup.

In Alberta, Fort Saskatchewan was just the latest, following Millet, Wetaskiwin, Beaumont, Drayton Valley, Rocky Mountain House, Carstairs, Sylvan Lake, Okotoks, Hinton, Slave Lake, Horse Lake and Fort McMurray.

In Saskatchewan, there are a few more in Ministikwan, Lloydminster, Shellbrook, Wayburn, Balgonie and, of course, Rosetown, and the same problems have been faced in other parts of the country.

The South East Prairie Thunder from Manitoba, for example, were formed from affiliate players. Other teams enter and exit AAA level of play depending on the affordability of the travelling to where the Allan Cup tournament is being held that year.

Despite teams diminishing year after year, McInnis says he felt no one was taking their concerns about the senior hockey brand and its viability seriously.

In a letter he passed along to the Lacombe Globe that was sent to Hockey Alberta, he said the current rules and regulations have negatively impacted the ability to generate interest and support and continue to play in communities.

He pointed to the use of up to 10 affiliated players to compete for the Allan Cup as a deterrent rather than incentive to create a permanent team. Under the current system, teams can choose to amalgamate affiliated players – such as the South East Prairie Thunder from Manitoba did for the tournament in Lacombe this year – to make a run for the cup, which results in fewer teams and thus a loss of leagues for them to play in.

Additionally, he pointed to problems with rules regarding “import” players, which has caused misunderstanding on an annual basis, such as the 2012 provincial finals series between Stony Plain and the now-defunct Horse Lake Thunder where they forfeit a Game 1 victory because they dressed too many import players unknowingly.

Given the import term has been applied to out-of-province players, and those who last played junior, college or university, as well as playing professionally in Europe, teams have also been tagged with a $2,500 IIHF transfer fee for every player needing to be transferred. In the case of the Generals, they’ve paid that fee 28 times for a total of $70,560.

Further, with reduced teams and leagues because of such regulations, McInnis says they’re now trying to sell their brand of hockey based on the Allan Cup tournament, not to mention battling increased animosity in the much smaller senior hockey community.

That was the reason, at least in part, why the Generals declined to take part in an ACHW meeting with Innisfail and Stony Plain. In a letter McInnis wrote to the ACHW, h

“Can you imagine the conflicts we would have on and off the ice if we tried to run some phony schedule with three teams remaining? ….Christ.”

This past season, the Generals played Innisfail 13 times, and despite Lacombe winning 11 of them, McInnis said he didn’t enjoy any of them, and playing any team more than that would do nothing to improve the hockey or grow the brand.

He said he’s written numerous letters outlining these problems, and has had dozens of meetings with Hockey Alberta and Hockey Canada, but no solutions came of them, forcing the Generals and reigning national champions to quit.

“They don’t care,” he said. “The saddest thing is nobody reaches out and says: ‘we’re going to help you.’ Hockey Alberta said: ‘let’s have a meeting’ – they kept asking me to have a meeting today.

“We’re out. It’s too late. We’ve asked them for years and you leave those meetings and nothing happens.”

As for the future of the Generals, McInnis says they’re working on an agreement with the Eckville Eagles to become the Lacombe Generals at the AA level, but it would be an entirely new set of people at the helm of the team.

“We’d help them get going with the understanding of our role in Lacombe, but then it would be their deal, their team,” McInnis said. “We want the Generals to exist, we want the City of Lacombe to have its own team. It makes sense to us. It would be business as usual as far as the city is concerned other than their team is now a AA team instead of a AAA team.”

His hope is one day the Generals would return to being a AAA team and make another march towards an Allan Cup, but in the meantime they’ll bow out as champions.

“We love Lacombe. We have the best team, the best rink, the best fans….We have all these people that believe in it and in Lacombe it’s so strong,” he said. “You’d think we have nothing but a great future, and then you look out the window and it looks like Chernobyl. Everything’s broken and in ruin.

“There’s nobody left for us to play.”

The Lacombe Globe has also reached out to Hockey Alberta for comment and will either update or post a new story when a response is received.