By Ryan Dahlman
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Medicine Hat Cubs’ Junior B hockey is more than just alive, it’s thriving.
With crowds generally averaging about 400 per home game with as many as 1,000 having come to a playoff game, it’s little wonder to those close to the team they have survived since they first started playing in 1973.
They have been extremely successful over the years winning many championships and even having two former players — goalie Blaine Lacher and forward Murray Craven — make the National Hockey League.
The Cubs have been a success because they encourage and provide a place for hometown talent up until their early 20s to play competitive hockey in the Heritage Junior Hockey League. Now, they are trying to get more talent to come in from southeast Alberta.
Currently within their 24-man roster, 16 call Medicine Hat home, one is from Saskatchewan, one is from Spirit River, Alta., and one is from Northwest Territories. The remaining are from southeast Alberta. Ty Collins is from Brooks, Ryan Miller is from Dunmore, Sean McGuire and Kyle Grant are from Redcliff, and team captain Joey Stadnicki is from Jenner.
For Stadnicki, he feels fortunate to be playing near his hometown. He once played for the Fort MacMurray Oil Barons of the Junior A Alberta Junior Hockey League.
“It’s been enjoyable and I get along good with everybody,” explained Stadnicki after a 5-1 Jan. 4 win over Stettler at the Medicine Hat Kinplex Arena on the Stampede Grounds. “It’s nice to be able to play with guys you’ve been playing with and against for a long time. The rivalry is still there. It’s unique competition and there are still good players in it.”
Stadnicki’s squad also beat Strathmore 7-2 Jan. 2 in Medicine Hat and lost 7-3 in Coaldale Jan. 3.
The Cubs’ ‘two-out-of-three-ain’t-bad’ weekend leaves their record at 15-14-2, leaving them in fourth place in the eight-team Southern Division. The Northern Division has seven teams.
Cubs’ general manager Bill Berard is in his fifth year with the squad and likes what he sees from the team. He is proud of how sound the team is on and off the ice. Berard says they have 12 volunteers who are consistently helping and a long-time group of hard-working board of directors who make sure the Cubs have hit the ice for the past 41 years.
They have an active website, they electronically record their games, hold 50-50 draws and have prize giveaways to help generate new revenue.
“It’s very important to keep the team alive for a younger generation of players to have a place to play,” explained Berard. “For young adults, it’s absolutely a viable option.
“It doesn’t take a lot to get players out. We usually start out the season with between 32 to 50 players for the opening try-out camp in August. It’s a different option for those who don’t have the time to play Junior A hockey which is quite a time commitment. It’s a reasonable option. The talent is there too. We have Junior A teams come to us and ask to speak to our players and we always say yes. We promote the education aspect of things and we get out-of-town players.”
Stadnicki noted he has talked to some potential players himself.
“I’ve talked to a few guys and give them advice to see if they want to come play,” Stadnicki explained. “It’s nice to be part of a team here … it’s hard to pass on an opportunity to play some hockey (locally).
The Cubs have been very good to me and being from out of town, they have helped me out a lot. I have a lot of positive things to say about them.”
While they have a solid roster, Berard said they are trying to recruit more players, especially from areas such as Taber and Foremost.
The team is actively looking for billets to help with those players who require them for the season.
Berard says he is also trying to work with the Medicine Hat College more to search for more players in the future.
Officials have helped find players jobs, some with many of their long-time sponsors.
“We have a very good group of sponsors who have been with us a long time, been with us through some rough times and now it’s good seeing them reap some of the rewards,” he explained.
Berard says the team has redone the ticket wicket at the Kinplex to reflect their connection to the building and have worked with the City of Medicine Hat to make it their permanent home so as to have continued access there.
“The new event centre frees up space and the City sees us as a viable business,” said Berard. “We’re making money. We don’t need (handouts) (and) we can do it for ourselves.”