A bit of Red Deer history is returning to the ice next season when the Senior ‘AA’ Red Deer Rustlers will begin playing in the North Central Senior Hockey League (NCHL) — a league which includes teams from Sylvan Lake and Eckville.
“There is still a lot of elite hockey players in the Red Deer area,” Rustlers President Mike Dempster said. “There are local guys that still have the drive to play some competitive hockey.”
Dempster said the Rustlers will be able to field a competitive team right away due to the fact there isn’t a lot of opportunities for senior-level Central Albertan hockey players.
“There is not a lot of options to play other than the Chinook league (the league which the Lacombe Generals play in), which is limited to a five-team league,” he said. “The senior league (NCHL) is expanding and showed interest in accepting another team. We made our decision to put a team forth and it snowballed from there.”
He added the team will feature players that have had high-level hockey experience including junior, professional, senior ACAC and CIS.
The Rustlers will begin their tenure in Red Deer starting in October and are currently gathering sponsorships and fundraising.
“We are a non-profit organization and it takes a bit of money to run a program,” Dempster said. “We want to do this to the best of our ability; we don’t want to take a half-shot at it — we are going to do it and we are going to have a competitive team with the goal of winning the league.”
Dempster is excited to field a team that has several guys that come up through Red Deer Minor Hockey and figures the Rustlers moniker will tie nicely into the community.
“We thought having the Rustlers name would be a great tie-in to the history of Red Deer,” he said. “We are trying to get some nostalgia out of it and there is a lot of kids around Red Deer playing spring hockey with the Rustlers jersey.
“Maybe they will see the senior Rustlers wearing the same logo they are wearing and get excited.”
Currently, the Rustlers are working on getting prime-time ice-time in Red Deer — which is a challenging aspect of starting a team in Central Alberta.
“It is obviously a very tight ice market in Red Deer and it goes mostly by historical users, so as a new team we are obviously not a historical user,” he said. “We have a bunch of different irons in the fire and we have some preliminary ice-time that Red Deer College has offered us at the new Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre.”
He added it is a possibility the inaugural season will play at multiple rinks, but their goal is to create a fun atmosphere wherever they end up playing.
“Kids will be free and it will be a really inexpensive ticket,” he said. “We want to get sponsors on board to have giveaways during the games and we have a full game-day staff set up for announcing and draws.
“We want to get as many people as possible out watching good quality hockey with local guys playing.”
He added some rinks could offer the opportunity for liquor sales for the adult crowds.
Ultimately, Dempster looks to create a sustainable hockey brand in Red Deer.
“We aim to be part of this community for a lot of years and we aim to do that through fundraising, local sponsorships and we have the intention to volunteer in the community.”