Growing weary of playing in front of small crowds in an antiquated facility and suffering financially in the process, the Bentley Generals will be on the move following the current hockey season.
When the 2016-17 Chinook Hockey League season opens, the Bentley Generals will be the Lacombe Generals.
The senior AAA team decided to relocate when Lacombe council on Monday gave the green light to a $3.4 million expansion of the Barnett Arena that will include the construction of five new dressing rooms, four for minor hockey and a 192 square metre (2,067 feet) space for the Generals.
According to Generals general manager Jeff McInnis, the club had no choice but to move, considering the age, relatively small size and location of their long-time facility — the Bentley Arena — and the fact that fan attendance has fallen off in recent years.
“Two things, which may be one and the same,” McInnis began Tuesday. “We couldn’t get people to come and watch us, and we believe part of that is the geographics — people don’t want to drive out there and the rink doesn’t lend us to getting people out there.
“So you’re always fighting a battle that you felt you couldn’t overcome. You were always defending the hockey and defending the arena , defending the drive … but eventually you get tired and realize you have to stop defending everything and just move. The public masses are screaming at you to move.
“Our hands were tied with what we had to work with. We probably stayed a few years longer than we should have, but that’s where home has been, that’s who we are.”
In the end, it came down to finances. Operating a senior AAA hockey team is an expensive proposition, particularly for a successful franchise such as the Generals who have been to multiple Allan Cup championship tournaments over the years in various areas of the country.
The Generals have competed in Allan Cups in southern Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland, Manitoba and northern British Columbia. Bentley is a two-time national champion, having won in 2008 at Steinbach, Man., and 2013 in Red Deer, and has been Allan Cup runner-up on four occasions.
“With the successful runs we’ve had, we never had a chance to put money in the bank. We were always starting at zero or behind because of the costs of travelling,” said McInnis. “Even in the seasons we did make money we were playing off debts from the year before. It can cost $60,000 to $80,000 to get to an Allan Cup.”
The fact that they will move into a new, spacious locker room was key to the club’s decision to relocate.
“We built a wonderful dressing room in Bentley and so we couldn’t move without that (promise of a new space). We told Lacombe that is what we need,” said McInnis.
“What helps us tremendously is they’ve upgraded their arena substantially but one thing they haven’t done is build new minor hockey dressing rooms. So our timing is really good because of that.”
The Generals are banking on the notion that the move will provide fans with a refresher of sorts, that it will rekindle their interest in senior hockey.
“Ten years ago this was new to people and our winning had a romance to it,” said McInnis. “There’s a complacency that sets in, people just take it for granted that we’re good. Maybe they think it’s easy to be good. I’m biased but I feel it’s not easy to be good. I take pride in what we’ve done and I hope people will come and watch us.”
While the move to Lacombe should be a boon for the team, McInnis insisted that he and the entire Generals organization will forever be grateful for the support they received from the people of Bentley.
“It’s been a pretty successful run, we’ve done things that no other team in Alberta has done, ever,” said McInnis. “There’s not a lot of two-time Allan Cup champion teams anymore because they usually fold due to expenses.
“What we’ve accomplished in Bentley is because of the people there. The success has been generated by that group of fans, so we have to thank them and I hope they don’t just forget us. We’ll be just 10 minutes east of them and we’ll still be the Generals.
“We will still be chasing Allan Cups and I hope that people understand that we didn’t leave because we wanted to. We left so that we could sustain operations.”