Big Valley’s loss is Eckville’s gain when it comes to the North Central Senior AA hockey and it seems to be a very good fit.
The Eckville Eagles are into their first year of play and the team is making an impression on the local hockey fans.
“The reception has been actually overwhelming,” said Reed Watts, player, owner and manager for the Eagles franchise. “I grew up in Eckville so I knew they would be warm and welcoming to us.”
Watts, who played there for three years, says he felt a little like a villain when he moved the team from Big Valley to Eckville but he agrees it was the right move.
The Eagles have only played a handful of home games but they are averaging about 150 fans per game which is not a bad draw. He figured it would be a small build to get the support level they enjoy now but it seems the fans were eager to get on board and the players appreciate it.
“In our second game I could tell there was a difference,” he said. “Someone at one of our practices said to me it’s starting to feel more like home.”
Even just understanding the quirks of the arena they play in, Watts says the players are getting more comfortable in the new surroundings.
He says Eckville has always been a supportive community so he’s not surprised the town is behind the new hockey team. There were plenty of hockey fans who made the trip to Bentley to support the Generals and some players from Eckville have suited up for the AAA team so a senior hockey connection has always been in place it seems.
They are knowledgeable fans who are not shy about sharing advice on the game with players, he pointed out.
The Eagles have Sylvan Lake resident Zeke Hume as their head coach and Watts says it was the right place at the right time for getting the former Devon Barons coach on board.
“In Big Valley we played Devon in the first round and we knocked Zeke’s team out. Zeke actually was coach of the year that season however due to his early playoff exit Devon released him and decided to go another route and coincidentally enough I was in the market for a new coach and he happened to be living just down the road and the rest is history.”
The players come from other locations for the most part, including Edmonton but Watts says he wanted to make sure they got involved in the community as much as possible in some way.
“It’s kind of a necessary thing. It’s something to give back because the community gives so much to us we need to reciprocate that and give back to the community.”
Watts admits it was tough leaving Big Valley because many of the players started there so plenty of history has been written with a Big Valley pen. The location has changed, the team look has changed with new uniforms and there’s been a few roster changes so now it’s time to write a new page of history with an Eckville Eagles signature.
“I think with this new coach, just the whole situation, we’re trying to carve out a new identity,” he said. “We’re a different style of team in Eckville than we were in Big Valley and we’re doing that not just because we think that’s what we need but because that’s the style of team that we’ve become.”
So the Senior AA seeds have been planted and now Watts will work on the culture of the Eagles in the community.
“It is a part of the town now and it’s a small part but it will grow and it will become more and more ingrained with the town and the following support will grow with it.”