A new local hockey team – the Stettler Imperials – is gearing up to hit the ice later this year.
“There are five of us that started this,” explained DJ Kistner, of the senior men’s team. “It’s mostly for guys in the workforce who still want to play,” he added. Rounding out that group were Ryan Koehli, Cody Wright, Garrett Primrose and Jef Skaley.
As to the initial start-up of the team, he said that he and some of the others had been coaching and they had experienced plenty of success with the local midget teams.
“We also saw how the town got behind it when we were in play-offs and provincials, too,” he said. “There were three of us who played Junior B here in town as well, and when we ‘aged out’ there wasn’t a place for us to go play – the closest place was an hour and a bit away,” he said.
So that’s essentially how the guys moved into coaching.
“There used to be senior hockey in Stettler, so we looked into a couple of different leagues,” he said, adding that the entire process of establishing the team has been a couple of years in the making.
“I would say 2018 was when we started coaching with Ryan, and we talked about a team throughout that whole season,” he said.
They weren’t successful with their first application, but the second time around the doors opened up and it was full steam ahead. “That was all in March of 2020 – just before COVID-19 happened.”
It’s been a process of preparation since including the ordering of jerseys and the garnering of local sponsorships.
“There’s a few little touches here and there that we have to do, but all of the major stuff (is done). We’ve got our ice booked, our plans have been looked at – we also have our liquor licence now so we can have some beer gardens at our games.”
They are also planning on holding 50/50s to enable the Imperials to give back to the community in a variety of ways.
“That’s one thing we are aiming for, is to be very involved in the community.
“One of the things we are also the most excited to see is how the community rallies behind the team. From us going around talking to people regarding sponsorship and volunteering, lots of people are very excited about us which also builds up our excitement,” he explained.
“Just from seeing how the community rallied around behind the 15- and 16-year-old kids in play-off series, and then we had a game in Big Valley and we filled that rink and were able to do a 50/50.
“They also had their concession open, so they were able to raise some money for the agri-plex there, too. Things like that are what we are excited for – just to see how the community gets involved,” he said, adding that Stettler has a solid history of providing support to any number of initiatives.
“We also want this to be an ongoing thing – we want it to last,” he said, reflecting on past teams over the years that have come and gone.
That’s also where part of the inspiration for the team’s name came from.
There were the Stettler Sabres in the 70s, for one. He said they considered the Sabres for the current team, but it was already in use.
“There is also a picture in the Stettler Rec Centre of a team in the 40s and 50s called the Imperials, and we thought that was a cool name. We also wanted to pay tribute to the history,” he said, adding that there is also a plan to have a ‘retro’ night once things get rolling where they can use the old retro jersey logos.
In the meantime, try-outs for the Imperials will run at the end of September, and the best way to keep in touch as to game dates, volunteer opportunities and other events with the team is via their Facebook page (Stettler Imperials Hockey Club).
“Then there will be some practices, and the season does kick off at the end of October,” he said, adding that they are aiming to hold the home-opener on Nov. 6.
For Kistner, hockey has been a life-long passion.
“Four of the five of us all have a history with Stettler Minor Hockey,” he said. “For anybody who knows me, I basically live and breathe hockey. It’s always been that way.
“It’s also the atmosphere of the rink on game day, and just being with your teammates striving for those goals. It’s everything from being with the guys in the locker room to the road trips, going out for a beer after the game,” he said.