It was 25 years ago, in 1992, that the Red Deer Rebels hockey team was formed. They have been the pride of our community ever since.
The Rebels followed another notable community hockey team, the Red Deer Rustlers. That team was formed 50 years ago in 1967.
The original intent was to have the Rustlers become part of the recently formed Western Canada Junior Hockey League. However, the Alberta Amateur Hockey Association opposed such a move. The Rustlers consequently became part of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (A.J.H.L.) instead.
The Red Deer team quickly became a powerhouse in the A.J.H.L.
They won the League championship in 1969-1970.
In 1970-1971, they also won the Abbott Cup as the Alberta/British Columbia Junior A hockey champions. They then went on to defeat the Charlottetown Islanders to become the inaugural winners of the Centennial Cup (Manitoba Centennial Trophy), the symbol of the Canadian Junior A national hockey championship.
The Rustlers won the A.J.H.L. championship and the Abbott Cup again in 1971-1972.
In 1973-1974, they won the A.J.H.L. once more, giving them the notable distinction of being the provincial Junior A hockey champions for four years out of five.
The Rustlers surged again in the 1979-1980 season when they won the A.J.H.L. championship, Abbott Cup and national Centennial Cup.
They were the repeat provincial champions in 1984-1985. After a one year lapse in 1985-1986 with a reorganization of team ownership, they again became provincial league winners in both 1986-1987 and 1988-1989.
However, in this latter season, the Rustlers faced serious management problems and major difficulties with the League. After a two-year long hiatus, the Rustler organization was formally disbanded in 1992.
Meanwhile, the Westerner Exposition Association had been working diligently to build a major coliseum and exhibition complex on the Westerner grounds on the south side of the City.
Because the project was considered very important to Central Alberta and because construction commenced during the Westerner’s centennial year (1991-1992), the facility was named the Centrium.
The Centrium made it possible to form a new community hockey team for Red Deer, this time with the Western Canadian Hockey League (later renamed the Western Hockey League or WHL). The owner of this new franchise was Terry Simpson with Wayne Simpson acting as the general manager and Peter Anholt as the head coach.
In October 1991, a ‘Name That Team’ contest was held and garnered more than 1,000 entries. While Centurions, a name reflective of the new coliseum, was seriously considered, the team’s management preferred the name ‘Rebels’.
The Rebels’ first game was played against the Prince Albert Raiders on Sept. 25th, 1992. Fan support was excellent. By early January 1993, the Rebels were attracting sell-out crowds of nearly 6,500.
In 1999, the Rebels were purchased by Brent Sutter, who, along with several of his brothers, had played with the former Red Deer Rustlers team.
In 2001, the Rebels won the WHL championship and then went on to win the Memorial Cup, the national junior hockey championship. In 2016, the Rebels had the honour of being the host team to the MasterCard Memorial Cup and made it as far as the semi-finals in the tournament.