INNISFAIL – The Birds of Innisfail are soon heading to the 2023 Allan Cup tournament in Ontario.
But they desperately need financial support to get there.
Management confirmed the news to the Albertan in late February, and received further updates last week about the Allan Cup series, which due to the COVID-19 pandemic has not been held since 2019.
“We are 100 per cent committed and going,” said Kent Wing, vice-president and director of operations of the Innisfail Eagles.
He said the 2023 Allan Cup series in Dundas, Ont. will run from April 16 to 22.
The Allan Cup championship, which has been competed since 1909, is awarded annually to the senior men's hockey champions of Canada.
The Innisfail Eagles played in the last Allan Cup championship series in 2019; the only time the local team ever made it that far in its 75-year history. They lost in the final to the Lacombe Generals.
However, before the Eagles head out to Dundas they have to play arch-rivals Stony Plain Eagles for the provincial senior men's AAA championship. The best three out of five-game Chinook Hockey League series began March 11 at the Innisfail Twin Arena.
“Right now, our focus is on bringing a senior men's AAA played provincial title back to Innisfail first, so obviously we need to get that done and then the Allan Cup in April,” said Wing.
He said the Allan Cup championship will be a four-team tournament this year.
Both the Innisfail and Stony Plain Eagles were invited to attend but only the Birds of Innisfail have confirmed their entry. Stony Plain officials attending the provincial championship playoff game in Innisfail on March 11 told the Albertan they did "not think" they were going to the national championship.
The host team, the Dundas Real McCoys – the 2014 Allan Cup champions – will of course be playing, as well as the winner of Ontario’s Allan Cup Hockey League championship, which will be decided either in late March or early April.
The biggest challenge for the Innisfail Eagles right now is to raise enough money to get to Ontario.
In past years before the pandemic Hockey Canada raised the money for Allan Cup competing teams through “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in corporate sponsorships.
Sadly, that has all changed and competing teams have been left on their own to find the cash to attend.
“These big sponsors have pulled all their sponsorships in the last the last couple of years due to all the issues within Hockey Canada with all the scandals they've faced,” noted Wing. “The host committee said, ‘you guys are more than able to have the tournament this year but you're on your own for money. We don't have any money to give.”
He said the situation “opened up” opportunities for host team Dundas to pursue different means of sponsorships but there won't be any financial support from Hockey Canada.
“We are 100 per cent funding out own trip,” said Wing, estimating it will cost about $60,000 to cover the travel, accommodation and meal costs for about 40 players, coaches, management and volunteers to attend the Allan Cup.
“We're doing everything in our power,” said Wing. “And we're trying to be very diligent on trying to raise as much funds as we can so that we don't go too far into the hole in order to go out there.
“Every waking moment we're talking amongst the board and a couple of other guys,” he added. “And we're trying to come up with different ways, whether we do different fundraiser events, which we're going to try and roll out or whether we're hitting up new potential sponsors that we haven't talked to you before.”
In the meantime, the Eagles hockey team started a GoFundMe page seeking support for the team to get to Dunbas but have now closed it for donations.
On the Eagles website at www.innisfaileagles.com the team is offering sponsorship packages to financially support the team to play in the Allan Cup.