It’s nice to belong and have someplace to call home. Even if you are a hockey team.Home is important on different levels.
The Lacombe Generals were road warriors at the start of the 2016/17 Chinook Hockey League season with 11 straight games in enemy territory as they waited for a dressing room in their new home base to be completed.
“We we’re like gypsies on the road,” said Generals president Wes Gyori. “Continually nowhere to store things, packing and moving and continually not knowing where everything was and the guys kept asking when and we kept saying soon.”
After seventeen years in Bentley the Generals saw the financial writing on the wall and took the plunge, heading to Lacombe. It was nerve-wracking to say the least as they waited to hear if the move was going to take place.
“If this does happen it will save us. If it doesn’t happen it will kill us because we thought we couldn’t make a go of it anymore,” said G.M. Jeff McInnis, describing the difficult decision the franchise was facing.
In early December of 2016 the Generals walked into their dressing room in the Lacombe Arena for the first time. It was a very good fit. The room is very “institutional” right now but that will change, said Gyori.
“I think right from when we opened the doors to the room and they came in, they’ve embraced it, knowing that it will get a little homier as we go further with this and we get things put up and the colours in here and so on.”
It was another step in the Generals becoming a part of the Lacombe fabric. It’s a community which embraced them before they put down these early roots. The Generals held a stirring playoff run to the provincial title with home ice advantage being the jam-packed Lacombe Arena.
This story was very much a hockey version of “Field of Dreams”- if you build it they will come but having a new dressing room does come with a price.
“The cost is large and the commitment is large and so the capital commitment on their (the town) behalf was made and we have to pay them back annually,” said McInnis.
The Generals draw some decent crowds in the regular season and with their repeat success in the playoffs the stands get full as does the bank account. It’s the reward of being successful.
The CHL is very much a blue-collar league with loyal fans who follow their team and in the Generals case, fans have made the trek to Manitoba, Ontario and the east coast for Allan Cup runs over the years.Now those fans make the trip to Lacombe.
The players are also loyal to the game of hockey, coming from all over Western Canada for the most part to play for essentially the love of the game. McInnis says these men have no problem calling Lacombe home.
“I think they’ve heard enough from their peers who may have played here that says, yeah, that’s worth your time. And maybe you can only swing it for a year or two before the kids are older or whatever it is. I think a lot of it speaks of reputation.”
So now the players have a dressing room and a community they can call their own and the citizens of Lacombe have a hockey team they can call theirs. This relationship is already showing signs of being good for both sides of the equation.
“When you wear the crest, when I wear the jacket, people will ask and wonder and they feel there’s something special that’s happening in this community and hasn’t been here for a long, long time and they want to know about it,” said Gyori.
It’s a relationship that is likely going to be as solid as the bricks and mortar which are the new dressing room for the Generals.
“This one will stand a long, long time,” said Gyori.” For many years after I’m long gone so that’s a good thing. So they will get a lot of use for a lot of years and that’s a cool thing.”
Oh, and the Generals at this time are 17-3 on the season.Home sweet home.