Innisfail Eagles will find a way to play in 2019

The Innisfail Eagles have been in operation for 74 years and don’t plan on going anywhere for the 75th.

After the announcement dropped that the Lacombe Generals would not play in the Allan Cup Hockey West this season, Eagles GM Ryan Dodd had already been fielding calls about next year.

He had been working the phones since the Rosetown Red Wings announced they wouldn’t participate in the ACHW earlier this month. That dropped the league down to three teams and Dodd knew his team needed an alternative.

“When Rosetown dropped out I reached out to the AA’s (North Central Senior AA Hockey League). I went to their AGM and I said ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen here, but three teams is not a viable league,” Dodd said Wednesday in a phone interview.

“Now that Lacombe is gone, people are reaching back. Saying ‘you know what, maybe there’s interest here. Maybe we can get this thing going again.’”

As of Wednesday, less than 48 hours removed from the Lacombe news, Dodd isn’t sure exactly what the plan is.

He’s got calls in to the North Central Senior AA Hockey League to let both Innisfail and the Stony Plain Eagles play there and even attended their annual general meeting earlier this year. Along with that, according to Dodd, interest is coming in from teams all across Alberta and even into B.C.

“What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to get the AA league to accept us and play in some sort of capacity,” Dodd said.

“If we had a place to play, they wanted us to play there. If we didn’t they would entertain the thought of bringing our hockey club into that league… Right now, as of today Hockey Alberta is going to talk to the President of the Double-A league and the teams and see if there’s some sort of way we can come up with a viable solution to this.”

Brad Lyon, Senior Manager of communications for Hockey Alberta, said they are also committed to finding a solution and noted that senior hockey overall is doing well.

“While there has been a reduction in the number of Senior AAA teams across the country in the last few years, it is important to note that senior hockey overall continues to thrive,” said Lyon, adding that there were 40 senior AA and A teams in the province last year, as well as new teams in Red Deer and Sylvan Lake.

“Hockey Alberta is committed to working with our member teams across the province to ensure that senior hockey remains a viable option for adults interested in continuing to play the sport at a competitive level.”

The other idea that is being circulated is a tier ystem across the province. The idea being that, all teams across senior AAA, AA and A, play in one league with a balanced schedule based on the tier they are in.

From Dodd’s perspective, the window for all those options opened the moment Lacombe decided they wouldn’t play in the ACHW.

“Does it really kill senior AAA or does it make it more viable?” Dodd pondered.

“I’ve had teams reach out to me from the south league and the peace league, all around Central Alberta. Heavily around Central Alberta. Guys are going, ‘well now that the head is knocked off the monster, maybe the rest of us can come play in the sandbox.’”

No matter what happens in 2019-20, Dodd still believes, even if he must, that senior hockey isn’t anywhere near dead in Alberta.

“We’ve been here for 74 years and we can actually date back to over 100 years, as long as the Innisfail organization has been together and there’s a reason why we’ve been together,” Dodd said.

“You have to put everybody’s feelings and ideas out on the table and worry about the league, not just yourself.”

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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