In every sport, the fans are the heartbeat of the team.
They keep their favourite team motivated by cheering them on but also encourage them after a tough loss.
And since 1992 the Red Deer Rebels have had diehard fans stick with the team through thick and thin simply because they love the sport and the franchise.
Two of those are the Toepfer and Medin families who have been going to games since the team’s inaugural season 30 years ago.
Doug Toepfer told the Advocate his parents have bought season tickets since the Rebels came to the city and he did the same once he became old enough to buy them in 2003.
Both of his parents, his brother, aunts, uncles, and many other family members still go to games regularly.
“For me not only am I a fan and love hockey specifically the Rebels but it’s also a little bit of a family event to go talk with people I don’t see that often,” he said. “Tackle those two things together it makes it pretty easy to look forward to being a fan or a season ticket holder for many years.”
Toepfer is optimistic about the Rebels this season and explained to be undefeated this long is quite an accomplishment. He said coming into the season it was expected the defensive core to be top-notch if not the best in the WHL. The goaltending he admitted was a little unnerving in their lack of WHL experience but he is impressed with how both Kyle Kelsey and Rhett Stoesser have been able to do.
“Up front we’ve certainly got some proven guys, especially getting King back. That should boost the offence a little bit even more,” he said adding it will be an interesting year with plenty of tough tests to be had especially out west and down south in the U.S.
“This team, and I don’t want to compare them, but they remind me a lot of the 2001 team where the year before they had a lot of guys who were forced into some bigger roles, had some injuries to some pretty big names on our team… Now we’re getting some of those guys back.,” he said.
“Grubbe’s got that leg back under him and King coming back from the AHL. Those guys gained a bunch of experience while those guys were away and now that we have the guys who got the experience and the veterans back in the lineup it’s pretty exciting.”
He doesn’t want to put a bunch of expectations on the team because junior hockey can be unpredictable but explained it’s hard not to get excited with everything we’ve seen.
One of his favourite memories was when the Rebels’ Evan Polei scored a goal in overtime to eliminate the Brandon Wheat Kings in the Memorial Cup in Red Deer in 2016.
“I’ve never heard the Centrium quite as loud as it was when he scored that goal,” he said adding there are numerous moments over the years he could mention.
Toepfer has even gone as far as travelling to watch some games including a bus trip he organized with fellow Red Deer fans and billet families that saw them travel across the border twice to different venues including Tri-City, Vancouver, Seattle, and others. He’s also organized bus trips in the playoffs to go to games in Calgary and Edmonton.
Red Deer’s Millie Medin and her family have been season ticket holders for nearly 25 years.
She said what continues to bring her back every year is the quality of hockey, affordability, and the people she’s met along the way.
Medin is impressed with the Rebels after their hot start this season because it’s been quite some time since fans have seen this right out of the gate since the year 2000 to be exact.
“They’re doing super. I can’t believe it. They’re a pretty young team and they’re just doing great,” she said adding she was a bit surprised at the start. “Especially the first couple games when all of our drafted players were gone to training camps. It was a good surprise though.”
Her favourite moment was when the Rebels won the Memorial Cup in Regina, Sask. in 2001. She and her family made the trip to the event and went on the ice afterwards and took some pictures of the players. They even got to hold the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
“We were waiting outside when they came out and they handed it to my husband and my son. They both held the cup. It tugged at my heartstrings let’s put it that way,” Medin said.
She’s hoping central Alberta’s team will make a return to the Memorial Cup this year and she is confident this team has the ability to do it.
Medin described Rebels fans as the most loyal in the WHL, not very loud but they’re loyal to their team. She seems more than qualified to determine that because she’s been to 15 memorial cups and has been to every WHL arena, except where the Vancouver Giants play in Langley, B.C.
“It’s just that the boys are trying so hard to get to the next step and like I said it’s affordable. Most families can afford to go to these games,” she said.