While it has just been six months in the making, the idea of forming the Senior AA version of the Red Deer Rustlers has been tossed around for several years.
Mike Dempster and the newly-formed Rustlers, one of three new entries in the North Central Senior Hockey League next season, came together to put a plan into action after deciding they could measure up to other teams in the league.
The Rustlers will join the Sylvan Lake and Maskwacis in the South Division of the NCHL next year.
“We’re all pretty excited. I think it’s a level of hockey that hasn’t been tried here. There’s a lot of available talent and guys looking to play that aren’t quite ready to go to beer league and still have a little bit of elite hockey left in them,” said Dempster, who will serve as the Rustlers’ team president.
After some conversations with the team about a potential roster, they moved forward with the necessary work and were officially accepted into the league on May 5.
The Rustlers were formerly a Junior A franchise that operated from 1967 until 1989 when they folded.
“It has been talked about in other years,” said Dempster. “It just seemed right this year. Meeting with Kevin Hill with the Rustlers Summer (Hockey) Program and him being so on board for us to use the name, it just all fell into place.”
Players for the newly-formed senior team range from former Junior A and B talent all the way to some former pros in the mix. Under Hockey Alberta rules they can card up to 35 players, but they do not plan on having too many healthy scratches so will likely roster close to 23.
“Roster-wise, it’s pretty neat looking at it that we’re going to have 100 per cent of our roster that has went through Red Deer Minor Hockey,” Dempster said.
“A good portion of us have played for the Red Deer Rustlers Summer Program. Very local ties of players. Everyone who is playing is going to be living, working and (be) part of the community, which is our main goal– to become part of the community. Sustainable part of the community.”
The next step is securing sponsorships and finding ice time. Most clubs in the league operate within a $25,000-40,000 budget, and the Rustlers plan to fall somewhere in the middle.
“Our biggest hurdle right now is ice time. Obviously, the city has their ice agreement with historical ice users and stuff. We’re trying to carve out something,” the team president explained.
“We’re trying to show them we’re not just a team that’s going to be in the league for one year and we’re not just another beer league team that takes a nine o’clock ice time.”
The team would ideally like to play in Red Deer but are open to other options if they can’t find space in town, said Dempster.
Eckville and the Rocky Mountain House Rams are the other existing south teams, with Daysland, Devon, Bonnyville, Morinville, Westlock and Whitecourt likely making up the NCHL North Division.
The Rustlers will play a 16-game season, with the NCHL putting together a schedule later this summer and beginning play in October.