There was a strong sentiment of disappointment from Lacombe Generals GM Jeff McInnis.
As the architect of the most recent Allan Cup winner, the best senior AAA team in Canada, at the 111th running of the tournament on home ice, it is plain to see why.
All the cards aligned for the club to win its fourth national title this season, but the future now hangs in the balance.
McInnis has been preaching about the failures of senior hockey for years and says those concerns have fallen on deaf ears. Now, those concerns have become more of a reality than ever.
“We need participation. We need the ability to stop the bleeding as far as the retraction and the loss of teams. Year after year there’s another team lost. This year we lost Fort Sask and Rosetown. Why are we losing them? Let’s make some changes,” he said in a phone interview with the Red Deer Advocate.
Interesting news today out of the @the_achw that the @LacombeGenerals are “Hanging up their skates and stepping away from the ACHW League”. One thing I can tell you is that we will not be stopping our quest for the Allan Cup!
— Innisfail Eagles (@innisfaileagles) May 27, 2019
With that, the Generals have decided they will not compete in a three-team Allan Cup Hockey West next season, leaving the Innisfail Eagles and Stony Plain Eagles as the lone soldiers.
Lacombe declined to participate in a league meeting with the other two teams and noted in a letter to ACHW and Hockey Alberta, “Can you imagine how many conflicts we would have on and off the ice if we tried to run some phony schedule with the three teams remaining? …christ.”
McInnis said that after playing Innisfail 13 times last season, there was no reason to play out a full year with that many games or more against one team and believe that the product will be what it once was.
That’s the conflict for the club because their passion for senior hockey runs deep and watching it disappear doesn’t sit well.
“It’s tough because we’re passionate about our little team and our town and our community and the combination. We’ve been experiencing a love affair in Lacombe between the town and the team. We everything in order to have the best franchise we could ever dream of and we don’t have a league,” McInnis said.
“We don’t have the ability to make any changes to our hockey. Year after year, it’s the same groundhog day… you can’t get through to people, this is what’s killing our hockey. No one will listen, maybe with us stepping aside.”
In the letter, McInnis cited concerns of affiliated players, imports, international players and the Allan Cup tournament format as reasons Senior AAA hockey participation is declining.
As for the future of the Lacombe Generals, the disappointment is clear but the answer is murky at best.
“Our hobby is this hockey and our hobby is chasing Allan Cups, it’s not our career,” McInnis said.
“What’s difficult is to balance my career and answer a million questions about what we’re going to do. We’re not sure what we’re going to do. All we know is we’re not going to bash our heads with Innisfail 42 times a winter.”