The on-ice rivalry between the Red Deer Rebels and Lethbridge Hurricanes has been a mainstay in the Western Hockey League since the Rebels joined the league in 1992.
As divisional rivals, the two teams have put on some truly memorable moments; from a thrilling five game Eastern Conference Championship series in 1997 to a couple of hard fought matchups as recently as last season when the two squads battled for top spot in the WHL Central Division.
And this year, as in the previous two seasons, that rivalry has expanded beyond the ice surface as the two clubs compete to see which team can bring in the most blood donations in the month of January.
“The biggest thing for us is that we just want to make sure that we’re always reminding people that there’s a constant need for blood donations because the need itself is always there,” said Shaun Richer, territory manager for Canadian Blood Services, during the launch of the annual competition ahead of the Rebels’ first home game of 2017 last Friday night.
Richer said the challenge, which the two teams have been participating in for the past three seasons, is part of a larger Hockey #GiveLife program run by Canadian Blood Services each year.
“It’s fantastic to have the Rebels support us in this initiative,” Richer said, adding that having the WHL on board with the initiative has been great as well because it allows teams to challenge each other and draw on the competitive spirit of hockey fans.
“This is a big, huge hockey town so it’s nice to create that kind of excitement, especially this time of season around hockey.”
Fans wishing to support the Rebels in the competition need only book an appointment and donate blood on behalf of the Red Deer Rebels either at the Canadian Blood Services clinic in Red Deer or at one of the many mobile clinics the organization runs throughout Central Alberta.
Anyone who does participate will have their name entered into a draw to win some Red Deer Rebels prizes including an autographed jersey, an autographed stick or a pack of six tickets to a future home game.
At the end of the month whichever team brought in the most donations wins.
“We’re undefeated. Last year it was a tie and we won the first two years, but hopefully we can keep the undefeated streak alive,” said Dean Williams, the vice president of marketing and sales for the Rebels.
While the players from the two teams are unable to take part in the competition themselves due to the rigorous demands of playing Major Junior hockey, they realize the need for donors.
“We had a player a number of years ago that cut his leg in a game on the road and lost a lot of blood, so the players, they realize the need. If there wasn’t blood available that guy’s hockey career probably would have ended,” Williams said.
According to Richer there is always a need for new donors.
“We’re always looking for all blood types. Just any blood donation across the board,” he said, noting that new iron eligibility guidelines for female donors has increased the need as well.
“In the past what’s happened is that they used to be able to donate every eight weeks but now it’s every 12 weeks. That’s a call too for more female donors — more donors just in general — to help offset the guidelines that way.”
The Canadian Blood Services’ Red Deer clinic is open Tuesday through Saturday. To find out more or to book an appointment, use the Give Blood app or blood.ca.