BY ZACHARY CORMIER
It has been a whirlwind year for the Lacombe Generals organization.
Around this time last year, the Generals had only just announced that they intended to move their franchise from the small town of Bentley to the City of Lacombe. Since then, the senior men’s AAA hockey team have won an Allan Cup, taken on a new name, seen a the development of a newly-renovated arena and hired a new coach.
“Eventful is a good word for 2016,” laughed Lacombe Generals GM Jeff McInnis during an interview earlier this month.
It was a long difficult road for the Generals, who kicked off the 2016-2017 season with three straight months of road games.
“It’s hard to describe to people how hard it is to be on the road. When you don’t have a dressing room, you’re very transient and you feel like you’re loitering. You don’t have a home,” said McInnis of the transition, which finally ended earlier this month with the team’s home opener on Dec. 9th.
“We knew we had to be patient because we knew it would be worth it in the end, but the move was hard. It’s been hard.”
Despite the difficulties that come with moving to a new city in such a short amount of time, though, the team has had a year to remember when it comes to their play on the ice.
While the Generals, who are always a dominant force in the Chinook Hockey League, didn’t cruise to a league championship as they had the past couple of seasons (they were nearly eliminated from the playoffs in the first round by the Innisfail Eagles), the team were able to rally and lay claim to the Allan Cup, the Canadian national championship of senior men’s hockey.
“We had some players that maybe weren’t doing what they needed them to do. On the ice was hard and then it all came around and we figured it out and we won another National Championship, which I didn’t know if we would do last year,” said McInnis, adding that it was a weird year in that the team played home games in Rimbey, Eckville, Lacombe and Red Deer to name just a few places as they searched for a new place to call home.
“There’s been years where we’ve blown it. Where we’ve said I can’t believe we didn’t win this tournament or this game, you know? It was such a blessing to make it out of that season with a championship playing all of those road games.”
The road games, though not ideal, were necessary to the Generals’ survival as a franchise. According to McInnis, the team were not drawing large enough crowds or generating enough revenue to survive in Bentley, which made moving to a new, larger centre a necessity.
Still, saying goodbye to the town which they had called home for 16 years wasn’t easy.
“We’re not turning our backs on anyone, we’re just trying to stay alive,” McInnis had said after the team announced their decision to move to the new rink.
Finding a permanent place to call home was a long and difficult process. The team had been moving home games around Central Alberta since 2007 looking for a viable market.
Eventually, they settled on Lacombe and, with some help from Lacombe City Council, a large dressing room suitable for a senior men’s AAA hockey team was added to the renovation plans at the Sportsplex.
It wasn’t easy, but the Generals had found a home and the moment that they played their first playoff game in the City, they knew they had made the right choice.
“That Lacombe rink was full. There was a buzz about it. We called it a love affair. You could tell that there was a love affair with the Lacombe community — not just the community, but the surrounding area — and the Generals,”
McInnis said, adding that the past years’ successes would not have been possible without the small army of volunteers that help out at games and without the commitment of the players who make long commutes and put in long hours to don the iconic Generals jerseys week in and week out.
“You feel like you wish you could reward them or acknowledge them for their time because when they drive down the highways from wherever they come from, you want to acknowledge that.”