Despite the Lacombe Generals sudden departure from the community, senior hockey in Lacombe will endure – albeit with a new team.
On Monday, the Wildrose Athletic Corporation, which owns the senior AA Eckville Eagles of the North Central Hockey League (NCHL), announced the team was relocating to Lacombe for the 2019-20 season.
While it wasn’t an easy decision to leave Eckville, particularly for native and Eagles co-owner and General Manager Reed Watts, the opportunity in Lacombe wasn’t something the team was ready to pass by.
“It isn’t a reality with Eckville – Eckville has 1,000 people. Compare that to Lacombe’s 13,000, it’s exponentially larger, and then if you’ve been in the Eckville facility and compare it to Lacombe’s, there’s really no comparison,” Watts said.
“The other side of it is all our players are coming from either Blackalds, Red Deer or Lacombe. It’s never a requirement but it does benefit the team. The team is able to fundraise much moer successfully in Lacombe. We are able to garner volunteers where Eckville it really the wives and girlfriends and mothers and at some point they do like watching games.
“Lacombe provides us with something Eckville doesn’t. We’ve tapped Eckville out.”
The process to move began in June following the Lacombe Generals formal withdrawal from the Allan Cup Hockey West (ACHW) on May 27. The organization, wanting to see the “love affair” Lacombe had with senior hockey continue, approached the Eagles to become Lacombe’s team in their stead.
Their first application was to relocate was denied by the NCHL, with the league under the impression the Generals, fresh off their fourth Allan Cup victory, were trying to drop down to the AA level, but a second application was approved at the fall annual general meeting once it was understood it wasn’t the same organization, followed by approval from Hockey Alberta who said the move would be positive for the league.
In a release issued by the city Tuesday, the Generals’ General Manager Jeff McInnis wished them luck.
“After 20 years of chasing the Allan Cup, and after four hard-won championships, we are proud to collaborate with the Wildrose Athlete Corporation to start the next chapter in Generals hockey,” he said. “We wish the new team all the best, and will endeavor to support them as they keep senior men’s hockey alive in our community.”
Watts says he believes that while the senior AAA model failed, the AA model is not only more viable, but sustainable.
“The AAA model is dying – it’s so difficult to sustain, financially and player-wise,” he said. “One thing the (ACHW) didn’t have was a large number of teams. Our league is at nine and I think our league could comfortably support 10-12.”
He said the talent pool is strong across the league, and the team has a standardized schedule with no more than 20 games a season, and one game a week, which he says players and fans both like.
The team is greenlit by the Generals organization to adopt the name and logo, however, other possibilities are in the mix, including the Rockets – used by the local minor teams – and the Merchants.
“They (the Generals) want to know we respect the name, keep the brand, but we’ve also, in discussion with community members, people have suggested Rockets and the merchants. To me, it’s a cool name, and if it has historical value, I see value with the team,” he said. “But it’s hard to beat the recency factor. With the Generals, one thing you can’t deny is their popularity in the town and the fact we could piggyback on the popularity of their name would be very beneficial to us.”
It’s unknown as to when the team will take on a new name and formally rebrand – though Watts says they’ll apply for a name change this season – so for now they’ll remain the Eckville Eagles.
They will, however, takeover what was the Generals’ dressing room, and there will be a few ex-Generals on the team in addition to familiar faces from last year’s Eckville team. They may just adopt the Generals’ culture of winning, too.
“We’re going to bring a strong team, a hard-working team and our goal isn’t to just sneak into the playoffs. We want to be the top team in the regular season. We want to be the top team in the playoffs,” he said. “In three years in Eckville, we never punched our ticket to provincials. We’d love to finally accomplish that and we’re hoping we can do it under the lights in Lacombe.
“It’ll be a fun year. It’ll be good hockey – it’s not a glorified beer league. They’re good players that still like to throw the body and mix it up. The AA league rarely leave you disappointed.”
The team will open the season with two games on the road, including Oct. 12 in Westlock and Oct. 19 in Morinville. Their first home game to be played in Lacombe at the Gary Moe Auto Group Sportsplex will be on Nov. 2 against the Devon Barons at 8 p.m.
2019-20 regular season schedule
- Oct. 12 Eckville @ Westlock at 8:30 p.m.
- Oct. 19 Eckville @ Morinville at 8:15 p.m.
- Nov. 2 Eckville vs. Devon at 8 p.m.
- Nov. 3 Eckville @ Blackfalds 2:30 p.m.
- Nov. 17 Eckville @ Fort Saskatchewan at 2:45 p.m.
- Nov. 23 Eckville vs. Bonnyville at 8 p.m.
- Nov. 29 vs. Red deer at 8:15 p.m.
- Nov. 30 @ Red Deer at 7:30 p.m.
- Dec. 7 vs. Morinville at 8 p.m.
- Dec. 14 @ Daysland at 8:15 p.m.
- Dec. 15 vs. Westlock at 2 p.m.
- Dec. 21 vs. Blackfalds at 8 p.m.
- Jan. 4 vs. Fort Saskatchewan
- Jan. 11 @ Bonnyville at 7:30 p.m.
- Jan. 17 vs. Daysland
- Jan. 18 @ Devon