A fitting tribute to the Red Deer Rustlers
The Red Deer Rebel’s tribute night for the Red Deer Rustlers Junior A team that preceded them in this city was one of those occasions that made me remember the days when the Rustlers were the toast of the town.
I liked the name and logo from the first time I saw the Rustler uniform eons ago when the Rustlers took Red Deer by storm in the AJHL. The Red Deer Rustlers were our senior team prior to the move to junior hockey.
I was also on board with the notion that the Rebels should have been named the Rustlers when the team joined the WHL, but I have since changed my mind on the issue.
The Red Deer Rustlers were a time and a place in my younger days as a fan of the team, so the memories can stay stronger if they are now frozen in time with the departure of the Rustlers all those years ago.
My strongest fan association with the team was during their run in the early 70s when the team took that long and winding road to a Centennial Cup championship in 1971.
We used to follow the team’s out of town games on radio with Al ‘Hoss’ Hammer calling the play-by-play in his own unique way, complete with unbridled moments of excitement.
The bitterest rivalry at the time was with the much-hated Ponoka Stampeders led by Stan Weir during the 69-70 AJHL season. Weir became the scoring champion by one point over Red Deer Rustler Wynne Dempster that season when Ponoka decided to goad Dempster into a series of scraps to keep him in the penalty box. It would be reasonably accurate to assume that Rustler fans were not impressed with the move by Ponoka because they knew that Dempster would not back down from an on-ice challenge.
The games were punctuated by scraps in the stands, including one that was purported to include my older brother, a guy whose dubious achievement was duly noted by Hoss Hammer in the radio broadcast when my brother ended up on the ice in Ponoka.
The 1971 Centennial Cup championship run will always be one of my proudest moments for our city. The Rustlers went series by series across Canada en-route to their first national title and it was a run that captured the hearts and minds of everybody back here in Red Deer.
The championship parade ran through town and it seemed like the entire city population was along the route to greet the team.
The team was always a blend of Red Deer players and guys from small town Alberta for the most part. The most famous collection of hockey brothers laced up for the Rustlers early in their careers because all six Sutter boys began playing junior hockey here in Red Deer wearing the masked cowboy logo.
Brent Sutter’s links as a young player to the second and last Centennial Cup team in 1980 was the catalyst for the tribute night to a team he and his brothers still hold in high regard.
Brian and Brent Sutter have made this area their permanent home like many of the Rustlers because their roots in the area grew deep from the day they first arrived in Red Deer.
The Sutter boys and many other former Rustlers have given back so much to the city that welcomed them as young teenagers who came here to represent our city as hockey players. Every player who ever donned the stylish Rustler jersey can look back at their time with the team as a great source of personal pride because they were fortunate enough to play for a team that carried the hopes and dreams of a championship for an entire community during the golden era of the team.
For me, the Red Deer Rustlers will always be a proud part of our city’s sports history as a junior and senior hockey legend.
Jim Sutherland is a local freelance writer.