Looking back at Red Deer’s hockey history

The 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament is well underway at the Enmax Centrium here in Red Deer.

Our City has hosted a number of major sporting events over the years, including the Labatt Brier (1994), Scotties Tournament of Hearts (2012) and World Junior Hockey Championships (1995). There is always pride and excitement to have such first-class national and international competitions in the community.

Red Deer has a strong connection with the Memorial Cup, beyond being the host city this year.

The Red Deer Rebels won the Memorial Cup in 2001, after the team beat the Val-d’Or Foreurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in an exciting overtime game by a score of 6 to 5.

What is often forgotten, when talking about the Memorial Cup, is that the trophy was initially donated in 1919 as a remembrance of the young men who had lost their lives during the First World War.

The instigator of the creation of the cup was Captain James T. Sutherland.

He was an overseas veteran of the War, who had served as the head of the Ontario Hockey Association for many years. At the end of the War, he became president of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association and was able to push the idea forward.

The Memorial Cup was donated by the Ontario Hockey Association and was originally referred to as the OHA Memorial Cup. It was considered the national junior hockey championship, with the champion of Eastern Canada playing against the Western Canadian champs in a series of playdowns.

The formats of the championship competitions have changed over the years.

The competition is now between the three member leagues of the Canadian Hockey League – the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and Western Hockey League (WHL) as well as the team from the host city.

Like much of Canada, Red Deer has long been a proud and active centre for hockey, going back to the earliest years of settlement. The first organized team was founded in January 1902.

In 1903, Red Deer became part of the eight-team Central Alberta Hockey League.

In 1904, women’s hockey was also organized in Red Deer. The first two teams were the Skookums and the Stars. The original Red Deer Rink on Morrison (52) St. and the Monarch Rink on Ross Street were therefore the scenes of all kinds of exciting hockey.

As was the case elsewhere, the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 put a damper on organized local hockey. Most of the young men in the community joined the military and went overseas to serve in the War. Women’s hockey went into hiatus.

However, while Red Deer continued to be a major recruitment and training centre, the young soldiers remained a major part of the local hockey scene.

The Alberta Amateur Hockey Association altered its rules to accommodate the new reality. Soldiers could claim the community in which they were stationed as their residence for team eligibility.

By 1916, such units as the 89 Battalion, which trained in Red Deer, formed their own teams.

The 89 Battalion soon developed a reputation as one of the best teams in the province. Fortunately, the men were not sent overseas until late spring.

As the War dragged on, all the main battalions left for service.

There were soon very few young men over the age of 16 left in the community. The students of the High School and the Red Deer Indian Industrial School made up the two remaining local teams.

After the end of the First World War, hockey became a very active sport again.

In 1925-1926, the Red Deer Hockey Club won the provincial intermediate championship. The women’s hockey team, now named the Amazons, won the provincial championship three times.

In 1935, the Amazons beat the Winnipeg Eaton’s team, the Western Canadian senior women’s hockey champions. Unfortunately, the match was only considered to be an exhibition game.