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Senior men's hockey alive and well as Innisfail team heads to nationals

Innisfail Eagles vice-president Kent Wing hits the road for 32-hour drive alone to Ontario’s Allan Cup tourney to deliver equipment and amenities
Kent Wing, vice-president and director of hockey operations for the Innisfail Eagles, and his wife Dana Fox-Wing, the team’s trainer, are flanked by the Hockey Alberta Senior AAA Provincial Champions trophy outside the Hideout restaurant in Red Deer County where the team recently hosted a fundraiser for their upcoming journey to Ontario to compete in the Allan Cup Challenge. Submitted photo

INNISFAIL- Senior men’s hockey is uniquely special.

Most players are former pros. Some of have played full-time in the NHL; others for just a cup of coffee.

Many have at least reached the minors. Others had standout college or junior careers.

At one time or another they dreamed of huge salaries and perks.

Not today. All that is just a distant memory.

But everyone still cares deeply about the game. They compete to win and give everything they have on the ice.

And off it too.

Every team member does their part without receiving a nickel of pay.

This week on Friday, April 19 members of the 76-year-old Innisfail Eagles Hockey Club, which includes 20 players, are boarding a red-eye plane to Dundas, Ontario at 11:50 p.m. to compete in the Allan Cup Challenge from April 20 to 27.

The national round-robin series is a once-revered tournament that still decides the best senior men’s hockey team in Canada.

The Allan Cup was named after Sir H. Montagu Allan, a prominent Canadian businessman and philanthropist, who donated the trophy in 1908 because he wanted the best amateurs in the country to have their own special prize to play for after Stanley Cup competition became restricted to just professionals.

And the Allan Cup champs still had a huge role to play on the international front.

From 1920 to 1960 the reigning Allan Cup champion was chosen to represent Canada at the Winter Olympics.

The sacredness of the Allan Cup is still not lost with many, including each and everyone on the Innisfail Eagles hockey team.

Kent Wing is a former Eagles player. He’s now the team’s vice-president and director of hockey operations, as well as assistant coach. His wife, Dana Fox-Wing, is the team’s trainer.

They both do it only for the love of the game.

On the morning of Wednesday, April 17, Wing is setting out alone in his truck and trailer on a 32-hour journey through the northern United States to deliver every piece of Eagles hockey equipment and all related amenities to the Allan Cup Challenge in Dundas.

He wants to ensure everything is ready for his 20 players at their first practice before they play for the national senior men’s championship.

“I'm going to drive until I know I'm tired and don't want to drive any longer,” said Wing, whose wife is flying to Dundas on the red-eye with team chiropractor and doctor Maddy Oystrick.

“The team gets into Ontario Saturday morning at 6 a.m. and we’re going to have a team skate. I want to have the dressing room ready for them. I want everybody’s bags in the dressing room. I want all their gear laid out, just like the pros do it.

“I want everyone to roll in and not have to worry about getting their equipment unpacked and dried out and stuff like that before we practice,” said Wing, emphasizing his efforts are in alignment with the beloved culture of the hockey team “To be at home; that's our biggest thing. We've worked so hard all year to create our culture and our feeling around our room.

“We want to take that and make it home when we're out in Ontario trying to win the Allan Cup championship.”

And all players have bought in. They are collectively dedicated to the mission at hand.

This is the Eagles third chance since 2019 to finally bring home senior men’s hockey’s greatest prize. There is no room for any shenanigans until the job is done.

The Eagles’ first game in the four-team Allan Cup Challenge is on April 21, and they will play the Stoney Creek Tigers, the Ontario senior men’s champion.

“It’s all business. There’s no, ‘hey let’s go watch a Jays game.’ ‘There’s no, ‘hey let’s do this or that.’ At the last practice they had a meeting in the dressing room and talked about guys wanting to go out and party,” said Ryan Dodd, the Eagles’ general manager and assistant coach.

“They are going to hold each other accountable, and they’re going to expect us as coaches to also step in and hold players accountable.

“I don’t’ think we are going to have any issues. Every guy sitting in the dressing room is like, ‘I’m not drinking beer until we win this thing.’ It was all 100 per cent bought in, and they are talking about their health, the way they are eating right now; all of these things are what the players are saying.

“We’ve got a 100 per cent different mentality going into the Allan Cup this year. So, look out. These boys are coming, and they are hungry for that championship.”

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