In a small city just 24.5 kms (roughly 15 miles) away from Red Deer, a hockey franchise that on any given Saturday would give anyone’s favourite SPHL team a run for their money plays. That team is the Lacombe Generals.
The Lacombe Generals are a AAA “Senior” Mens hockey team. Although if you say the word “senior” to anyone within the organization they’ll give you an ugly glare. It’s a term they and much of the rest of Men’s AAA hockey in Canada is trying to get rid of. It brings the image of old retired guys playing hockey when really, this team couldn’t be further from the truth.
The franchise started out in the sleepy community of Bentley, Alberta in 1999. The first few seasons the franchise played with a skeleton crew of players, memorable names include Chad Beagle and Travis Stephenson, future GM Jeff McInnis would play as well. By 2001 the team won its first ever Senior A title, the next season the Gens would register as a AAA team and compete for the Allan Cup for the first time.
The next four seasons in the Chinook League saw the Generals finish with three second-place finishes before the beginnings of a dynasty would start to show.
A roster of 20 players with 150 AHL and 58 NHL games of experience would certainly help as former Hartford Whaler Kevin Smyth and ECHL star Dean Tiltgen led the charge to their first AAA Provincial Title.
The next season saw simply one of the biggest names in Alberta hockey history come play for the Generals, thanks to the NHL lockout of course. The former Captain of the Edmonton Oilers, Kelly Buchberger laced them up. Kelly did not disappoint, registering ten points in nine games.
As well, a very familiar provincial hockey last name would join the ranks. Joe Vandermeer, a very popular ECHL defenceman, would help anchor the teams defence. Vandermeer had played over 400 ECHL games registering over 200 points from the blue line. This team did not disappoint by winning the Chinook League championship.
The 2007 Bentley Generals were coached by the second oldest of the SIX Sutter brothers, Brian Sutter. Brian played for the St. Louis Blues, his leadership skills are absolutely unquestioned as he was the Blues Captain for the last nine years of his career. He immediately became coach upon his retiring and won the Jack Adams Trophy in 1991.
Sutter was able to guide the team to its first ever Allan Cup Final in 2008 where they fell just short of winning it all, losing to the Brantford Blast. This Generals team was stacked with over 1,000 games of AHL experience, Ray Schultz, Mark Woolf, Kevin Smyth, Sean Robertson, Dwayne Hay were some notable names while Scott Galenza was an absolute stud in goal.
2008-09 would prove to be an amazing year for the Bentley Generals. They won the Chinook League title and made it to the finals of the Allan Cup. The Generals, playing in hostile territory, Steinbach, Manitoba, were facing the home team South East Prairie Thunder in the final game. The game would last five periods before Diarmud Kelly scored the game winner in the second overtime. The Generals had won their first ever Allan Cup, 4-3. Goaltender Cody Rudkowsky was brilliant in net stopping 42 of 45 shots.
Their next Allan Cup Championship would come on home ice in 2013 as they hosted the Allan Cup in Red Deer. This team had so much experience its ridiculous and not that far fetched to believe that they could have taken on most AHL franchises.
With 1,020 NHL games, 1,925 AHL games, 836 DEL games, 142 Allsvenskan games and 66 SHL games under their belt, this team was STACKED. The three headed monster of Travis Brigley, Jeremy Colliton (yes, current Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton), Trent Hunter in their line up nobody was going to defeat this team.
The Clarenville Caribous were the unfortunate team to face the Generals in the finals. Goaltender Dan Bakala stopped all 35 shots he faced while Chris Neiszner, Scott Doucet and Keenan Desmet scored the goals.
Now something that should NOT get lost in all of the stats about NHL, AHL, SHL game experience is the amount of ECHL, CHL, IHL CoHL,WHL, NCAA, U-Sports experience has gone into this franchise over the years. Players like current Head Coach Sean Robertson, Kyle Sheen, Dustin Sproat, Don Morrison, Scott Kalinchuk, Darrin Zinger, Keenan Desmet, Brett Robertson, Jesse Todd, Tanner Korchinski, Doug Jessey, Brett Thurston, Jason Lundmark, and others all have experience at these levels. This is not the FHL where some guy who played a handful of games in Jr. B might get a roster spot.
In 2015 the Generals announced that they were moving to Lacombe from Bentley, the Generals now call the Gary Moe Auto Group Sportsplex their home. It’s a beautiful facility to come watch all levels of hockey in.
Then in 2016, the Generals would return once again to Steinbach, Manitoba AND make the South East Prairie Thunder re-live their worst nightmare, dropping them once again, this time 4-3 in overtime for a third Allan Cup title.
All in all, the Generals have won twelve Chinook League Titles, one Allan Cup Hockey West Title, they have been to the Allan Cup Finals nine times, winning the Allan Cup three of those times. All of this in just nineteen years of existence.
The Lacombe Generals provide some of the best hockey in the province going up against teams like the Innisfail Eagles, Rosetown Red Wings & Stony Plain Eagles who also have had some pretty amazing rosters over the years. The ACHW playoffs are just around the corner as the Stony Plain Eagles come to town this Saturday to kick things off.
On top of all that, in partnership with the City of Lacombe, the Generals are hosting the 2019 Viking Projects Ltd. Allan Cup from April 8th-13th. Tickets are still available for this incredible event. Reserved seating packages are $253 , rush seating are $203, BOTH ticket packages are for all eleven games including the final which is televised by TSN.
In the coming weeks we will be following the team through the ACHW playoffs and the Allan Cup. A number of interviews are to come as we speak with GM Jeff McInnis, Head Coach Sean Robertson, Captain Brennan Evans and more.