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Innisfail Eagles’ Allan Cup dreams morph into chaos

With Stony Plain considering a switch to AA men’s hockey, Innisfail could be left alone in AAA and not be able to host national tourney in 2025
The Innisfail Eagles hopes for home-town Allan Cup glory have taken a sudden nosedive. The Eagles were scheduled to host the national tournament next April but the senior men's hockey club is suddenly facing serious challenges to even play in the tourney, never mind hosting it. File photo/MVP Staff

INNISFAIL – From joy to heartbreak is what Ryan Dodd’s past month has been about.

And the Innisfail Eagles’ general manager is also pondering the timeless adage, “so close yet so far.”

Last month, Central Alberta’s last remaining senior men’s AAA hockey team was celebrating the news its team and town were chosen to host the week-long Allan Cup tourney in April of 2025; a 115-year-old event to determine the best senior men’s amateur hockey team in Canada, and one the 76-year-old local hockey club had never hosted.

But suddenly, with the Town of Innisfail getting the go ahead from town council on May 6 to begin planning for the Allan Cup, all dreams of hockey glory and being in the national spotlight are now within a hair's breadth of being over before it even started.

It could also mean that western Canada faces the real possibility of no longer having a AAA senior men’s hockey team to make a challenge to claim one of Canada’s most revered sports trophies.

“It tears a friggin hole in me because I’ve bled for that Allan Cup. It hurts,” said Dodd, whose long association with the Eagles hockey club goes back to the 1998-99 season as a player. “Right now, I need to get this team a place to play.”

The big lingering problem for Dodd and the hockey club is that the Innisfail Eagles played in the two-team AAA Chinook Hockey League (CHL) last year, and had hoped to add a few more teams for the 2024-25 season.

But the new teams Dodd was counting on have pulled out, and then he heard some disturbing news out of Stony Plain.

“(Stony) really put a wrench into us,” said Dodd.

The Innisfail Eagles have had a longstanding senior men’s AAA rivalry with the Stony Plain Eagles, a rivalry that continued right into last year when they were the last two AAA teams still standing in western Canada.

But Stony Plain, which won an Allan Cup in 1999, came out of last season not wanting to play any longer in a league with just two teams, and are looking to leave AAA hockey and the CHL to find a playing home elsewhere.

If that happens, Innisfail, which has never won an Allan Cup since competition started in 1909, will no longer have a AAA playing partner, and won’t be able to even qualify to play in the Allan Cup or host the tournament.

“We're working on trying to find a league to play in that isn't just two teams,” said Chad Hohmann, director of sales and marketing for Stony Plain, who is also the team’s player-coach.

“As you know a two-team league is probably not very conducive to fans and sponsors,” added Hohmann. “And so, we're trying to find a solution where we can have good competition and have different teams to play.”

“We’re just looking at options right now for next year; that is my direct comment,” said Hohmann, emphasizing that “nothing” is confirmed yet.

However, Dodd, who has not yet contacted top Allan Cup Challenge officials in Ontario about Innisfail’s perilous state of affairs, said the board of directors of the Innisfail Eagles Hockey Club met on May 6 and voted to drop down to AA and apply to play in the senior men’s AA North Central Hockey League (NCHL), an eight-team Alberta senior men’s AA hockey circuit.

“There is no guarantee the NCHL will even accept us. There's no guarantee we can even go on the ice this year. It's crazy how it's working out,” said Dodd, adding NCHL officials will vote on May 14 to decide whether they will accept the Eagles into their league.

“In order to get into the NCHL we have to drop the Allan Cup, that’s my understanding.,” he added. “They are saying there’s no AAA status teams, and if you want into the NCHL you have to give up the Allan Cup and give up AAA.

“Once we find a place to play hockey, that'll dictate what happens to the Allan Cup for us.”

Dodd added he will officially notify the Allan Cup Tournament Committee once the NCHL makes its decision.

“If they (NCHL) deny us playing in that league, then I'm going to have to find a place to play for the team, and I don't know what that'll look like,” said Dodd. “I would still try to host the Allan Cup out here, if that happened.

“The problem then is funding,” he added. “If you got to go into B.C. and play in the B.C. interior how do you fund that? You're talking about thousands of dollars for buses, hotels and meals.

“I can’t do that.”

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