It simply started out as a dream for Mikel McIver but it has turned into a lifetime of memories.
McIver, the Red Deer Rebels dressing room attendant has spent the past 22 years dedicated to his favourite Western Hockey League squad.
However, it’s now more than just a team for McIver. For the 39-year-old with Down Syndrome, the Rebels have become like a second family and have treated him like one of their own for over two decades.
“I like my job and hanging out with the hockey boys,” he said. “They’re my second family… I have so much fun there working with the team.”
“I’m just very proud of my boys right now.”
Mikel and his father Robert explained that Mikel joined the team during the 2000-01 season when they won the franchise’s first-ever Memorial Cup in Regina.
Right around that time McIver turned 18 and for his birthday they made the trip to the land of the living skies to watch Red Deer win junior hockey’s ultimate prize.
The dream really started when Mikel was a student at Hunting Hills High School he also happened to be a competitive swimmer.
At the time, the Advocate wrote a story on McIver and during the interview, he said he wanted to work for the Rebels. Once it was published, Rebels equipment manager Dave “Radar” Horning reached out to the McIvers for an interview and 22 years later, the rest is history.
Mikel’s job entails all things inside the locker room including getting water bottles ready for practice and games, picking up pucks, vacuuming, laundry, and taking out the garbages. Before he worked for the team he was a big fan and went to a lot of home games with his family.
Mikel refers to Horning as “uncle Rades” and Rebels owner and general manager Brent Sutter as his second father.
The organization has spoiled him over time including a new tuxedo he wore to a game in honour of his 20th season with the team. Some of the players will take him to the convenience store to get a Slurpee and give him a ride home after practices and games. The Rebels have even gone as far as holding birthday parties for him at the office.
Sutter said Mikel has been the glue that holds the team together to have someone like him in the room with the players. He described Mikel as a very structured individual in how things have to be done and takes a lot of pride in his work.
“He’s just one of those guys when you think you’re having a bad day you’ve just got to hang out with Mikey for a few minutes and your day is pretty good,” Sutter said.
“He’s always telling me he’s like my third son. It’s just I think the bond and relationship we’ve formed over the years… With Mikey, it just seemed like it was meant to be and it’s a pretty awesome story when you think about it all.”
Sutter thought back to the moment his wife Connie read the article about Mikel who said his dream was to work for the Rebels. To Sutter, after talking with Mikel and his family, it was a no-brainer to hire him and Mikel reminds him every day it’s still his dream job.
“He always comes upstairs every day to come and say hi and if you’re not there, he wants to know where you’re at. Whenever you see him it’s just like a big hug and they’re very loving and caring individuals,” Sutter explained.
“It’s a unique relationship he has with everybody… There’s just a bond there. He’s a Red Deer Rebel through and through and he throws his heart and soul into everything he does. Every day he’s a breath of fresh air.”
Before he joined the Rebels McIver swam competitively at the high school and even made it to the national championships twice. He also made it to provincial championships multiple times and even now he still swims in local meets and in the Special Olympics. In the offseason, he also works at the IGA Eastview grocery store where he stocks the shelves.
Over the years, Mikel has developed close relationships with some of the former players including goaltender Cam Ward who went on to have a 15-year career in the National Hockey League and former Rebels player Ethan Sakowich.
Robert said every season Mikel meets a ton of players and because of this has developed quite a collection of sports memorabilia. He keeps it all on display at home and has gotten items such as a game-worn NHL all-star game jersey from Ward and most recently a Seattle Kraken jersey from former Rebel Haydn Fleury. He has also met many Canadian sports icons such as former Toronto Argonauts football legend Pinball Clemons and Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean.
Mikel even got the chance to work for Team Canada at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship last summer. He met even more of the world’s top players and was gifted a signed jersey from the Austrian team.
October 23-29 marked Canadian Down Syndrome Week and March 21 it is also World Down Syndrome Day, both of which mean a lot to the McIver family.
“The Rebels had him drop the puck at the game around March 21st last spring to draw attention and support the day,” Robert said.
“It’s huge. Like Mikel said, it’s his second family for 22 years.”