Courtesy: Fast Photo

To steal a line from the great baseball movie “Field of Dreams”- if you build it, they will come.

This describes the upcoming move of the Bentley Generals Senior AAA hockey team to Lacombe for next season but it only really scratches the surface.

The Generals have call Bentley home since the team was founded in 1999 and managed a 4th place finish in the Chinook Hockey League in year one with an 11-13 record. Of course they improved on that record and at the same time generated quite a following in the community.

It was that following by fans which helped the Generals gain a real foothold in the town but as the years went by the members of the “Army” started to stay away from the rink even though they were backing a winner.

Courtesy: Fast Photo
Courtesy: Fast Photo

“Maybe it was the newness. Maybe it was the rink. Maybe it was the geography and people didn’t want to drive,” said Jeff McInnis, the team’s GM. “The rink has a reputation for being cold, cramped a bit. We’ve had some issues with ice quality. We’ve had some issues with the lighting. There was always something but that stuff was something we always wanted to overcome but the crowds was the deal breaker.”

For the past 20 months the Generals brain trust has been working on a plan to move the team with a few locations in mind including Red Deer but the team would lose that big fish in a little pond persona. Lacombe was always at the top of potential suitors said McInnis and the community fits the mold of a senior hockey town in his mind.

The proposal from the Generals was met with a yes from the city and so the marriage was on. Now to plan the wedding and build a home.

Courtesy: Fast Photo
Courtesy: Fast Photo

The Generals had constructed quite a dressing room in the old arena and it would have been foolish to leave that sanctuary and not have something similar to start fresh in next season. The city and the team will partner up in order to build a dressing room for the Generals as part of the $3.4 million dollar Barnett Arena expansion. Three new dressing rooms will also be part of the build along with renovations to the existing rooms.

Having a room to change in might seem like a basic need for any team but for these men coming in from Strathmore, St. Paul and other regions, it was more than just somewhere to store your clothes during a practice or a game, said McInnis.

“What we built there (in Bentley) was a great thing to have. It was our clubhouse. For our men who travel two and a half hours, for them to come there and have that dressing room was huge.”

The dressing room stays with the Bentley Arena but the display out in the lobby which tells the story of this successful franchise will follow the Generals to Lacombe.

“One of our good men Diarmuid Kelly built that and it was a great project after our first Allan Cup championship. We had seen that in other instances in Trail B.C. and Powell River. Championship teams need that so it was very cool and we’re very proud to have built that,” he said.

The tipping point though for the team was getting a steady stream of butts in the seats which in turn translates into money to help run the club. He says the fans of the team understand the need for a move based on the financial aspect.

“It isn’t something that we’re doing because we don’t want to be in Bentley. It’s that we can’t be in Bentley. It’s Lacombe or bust,” he said. “This is it. We move or die.”

The move to a relatively more modern rink is a real positive and McInnis feels strongly about the potential support the Generals will garner from Lacombe hockey fans.

Courtesy:Fast Photo
Courtesy:Fast Photo

“I’m really passionate about our team and our product. It’s really good,” he said. “I’m convinced that I’m not crazy and our product is worth coming to see and so for $12 bucks if you can beat that I don’t know how.”

The track record of the Generals playing in Lacombe adds to his confidence about this being the right move. The Generals would draw between 300 and 400 fans when they play there which is not bad for a team which doesn’t call Lacombe home. It really makes the Generals a solid anchor for the arena.

“We can’t gloat and we can’t boast but we have won a couple of Allan Cups and it’s a wonderful thing to say we’ve done that and that we do things in a certain fashion. I believe that Lacombe wanted that. They have a history in senior hockey and so I think it’s a senior hockey town.”

So it will be a lengthy engagement as the Generals finish off this season and when the puck drops next season they won’t be keeping their maiden name as they skate out for the first time as the Lacombe Generals.

Here’s to a happy and long marriage.

 

 

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