Even living in rural or semi-rural central Alberta there are many ways to get to know your neighbours, and in the counties of Leduc and Wetaskiwin men’s hockey has been a popular option for more than 40 years.
The Leduc Old Blades Hockey League boasts players from Millet to Edmonton; having started 43 years ago in the 1972/73 season.
Before the official creation of the Old Blades league there was one travelling team, says defensive player Gene Sturk.
However, the growing number of men from the area wanting to be involved forced the creation of something a little more structured.
The Old Blades started with four teams but has since then doubled to eight.
“I don’t think there was an age limit at that time,” said forward Bill Bolton.
When the league began, organizers introduced an age cap of 35 years old and up. However, to promote the league and encourage growth some players who were under-aged where allowed in at certain times. Now, with so much support and interest in place, the age limit stands.
A unique feature of the league is it accepts individual players, not entire; there is a draft that follows.
In the past the league has fielded calls from Europe asking about the Old Blades draft process.
The league drafts on abilities and has operated that way since its inception. “So nothing has changed in 40 years,” Sturk.
Games continue over the summer months in a pick-up fashion, allowing those interested to come out and meet other players, get an introduction to the league and evaluations preparing for the fall draft.
Aside from actual hockey one of the main components of the Leduc Old Blades Hockey League is the sense of community it looks to foster.
Sturk says he landed a job via his Old Blades connections and Bolton says his wife had a similar experience.
“I think it’s the friendships you make and the camaraderie of the room,” said Sturk.
“Ninety per cent of the people I know are from Old Blades,” he added.
Bolton moved to Alberta in 2010 and through the Old Blades discovered friends in the community and surrounding area. “Other than work 80 per cent of the people I know are from hockey.”
“(We’re) one big happy family with some distant cousins,” said Sturk.