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Innisfail Eagles high on chance for 'big dance' in Ontario

As the senior men’s AAA team prepares for national Allan Cup Challenge there are practices, discipline and fundraisers
The Innisfail Eagles' Ryan Dodd, the team's long-time member and current general manager and assistant coach, raises the provincial senior men's championship trophy in 2023. This year the number one focus for the team and himself is the upcoming national Allan Cup Challenge in Dundas, Ont. Johnnie Bachusky/MVP Staff

INNISFAIL – When Innisfailian Josh Gette was celebrating his Eagles hockey team’s big provincial championship win on March 22 he exclaimed it gave his squad another chance for the “dance," much like baseball players do when they get a shot at “The Show.”

The Eagles are still on a high more than two weeks later but more so in a restrained and disciplined way.

It’s all serious business now. The players have to stay focused for the national Allan Cup Challenge in Dundas, Ontario that is being held from April 20 to 27.

It is the second consecutive year the Birds are going to the “dance.”

Unlike in 2023 when bad bounces, terrible luck and unfavourable series rules forced an early exit, the 76-year-old team is determined to go all the way to bring home it’s first-ever Allan Cup; a historic 115-year-old trophy awarded annually to Canada’s senior men’s ice hockey champions.

Ryan Dodd, the team’s general manager and assistant coach, said he’s sensing a different feeling while the team practises for its second consecutive big dance.

“You could just see the guys with an extra step in their feet, and the way they're moving and snapping pucks around the ice,” said Dodd of a recent team practice. “At the end of practice the veteran leadership, like Dan Vandermeer, brought all the guys into the middle of the ice and they all got down to do their stretches and stuff.

“And he started talking about the way that we needed to conduct and control ourselves, and have discipline out in the ice, and just buying into the systems,” he added. “Those are the guys that lead you to the next level, right.”

Due to the current lack of ice available in Innisfail and the area the Eagles will continue with weekly practices in Cochrane until they board a red-eye plane to Dundas, Ont. at 11:50 p.m. on Friday, April 19.

The team’s first game in the four-team national championship series is on April 21. The team is now working on a plan to have all Eagles games live-streamed on the Eagles’ Facebook page.

To get to Dundas and back, and have dozens of players, coaches and support volunteers properly lodged and fed for a whole week, is not a feat that can be put together on an easily affordable budget.

The Eagles hockey team has set a budget of $70,000 to attend the national Allan Cup Challenge. That’s $10,000 more than last year.

“It’s killing us but we are still confident we are going to make that,” said Dodd of the rising expenses, adding the nearest available hotel near Dundas is 33 kilometres away in Cambridge. “We have to travel a half an hour already to each and every game that we play, and it’s expensive.”

However, Dodd said despite the tough financial times impacting everyone and most businesses, several committed sponsors, such as Dick's Trucking and Fourlane Ford, have stepped up to support the team.

“They're supporting the local guys. There’s been a lot of people that have been criticized over the years about the Eagles not being local,” said Dodd. “But you’ve got Riley Simpson. You got Chad Robinson. You’ve got Joe and Dan Vandermeer, Josh Gette and the two Thudium brothers out of Red Deer.

“The list keeps on going and going.”

On April 5, the team hosted a fundraiser in Canmore, the current home of head coach Kevin Smyth and five current Eagles players.

On Saturday, April 12 at The Hideout in Red Deer County the team will have another fundraiser, a ticket entry for 150 seats that are selling at $50 each.

As well, Innisfail town council decided on April 1 to recommend a motion for the regular meeting on April 8 to support the Eagles hockey team with a $1,500 sponsorship.

“I think it'd be great to sponsor our Innisfail Eagles senior men's team,” said Coun. Jason Heistad of the motion. “I think it'd be fair. I've seen a couple of other groups come in and ask for money in the last couple of weeks.”


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