RED DEER ARENA
For many non-Albertans, there are really only two cities of note in Alberta – Calgary and Edmonton. From a population and economic perspective, that observation likely does have some merit. But as it relates to culture, character, and most importantly, hockey, the city of Red Deer more than rivals the behemoths to its north and south.
Red Deer Arena was constructed in 1952.
The heart and soul of Red Deer hockey is the Red Deer Arena. The Arena was constructed in 1952 when the city had a population of 10,000. For the last 64 years it has served as the center of the hockey community not only in Red Deer but for many of the surrounding central Alberta communities, including Sylvan Lake, Bentley, Lacombe, and Innisfail. Over that time period, the population of Red Deer has grown almost 10 fold and now sits at right around 100,000 people.
The Red Deer Arena underwent two major renovations in its storied history. The first occurred in 1978 and added the front upper and lower lobby, as well as a vestibule for increased seating capacity. The second major renovation occurred 17 years later and added an accessibility ramp, a new arena floor, and expanded dressing room and office space.
Over its history, the Red Deer Arena has hosted many of the great athletes and sports teams of Red Deer and, really, all of Alberta. This has included the Red Deer “AAA” Midget team, that has won two national championships, the Red Deer College Queens, and various Junior Hockey teams, most notably the Red Deer Rustlers of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
The Rustlers joined the AJHL in 1967 after being blocked by the Alberta Amateur Hockey Association at joining the Western Canadian Hockey League (which would later become the WHL). The Rustlers wasted no time in rising to prominence in the AJHL and won four league titles from 1970 to 1974. In 1971, the team also captured the Centennial Cup, emblematic of Junior “A” dominance in Canada. They repeated this feat in 1980.
Over the course of their domination of junior hockey in Alberta from 1967 to 1989, the Red Deer Rustlers would produce more than 20 players that would go on to play in the National Hockey League, including all six of the Sutter brothers – Brian, Darryl, Duane, Brent, Ron and Rich. In 1989, after winning their 8th league title in the friendly confines of the Red Deer Arena, the Rustlers were suspended from the AJHL for violating its by-laws.
The Rustlers were reinstated in 1992, but opted to officialyl fold in 1992 to make room for the Rebels, as Red Deer finally officially joined the WHL. The Rebels played in a new and much larger arena called the Centrium. While the Rebels have had success with a Memorial Cup title in 2001, they haven’t dominated like the Rustlers did - a domination that made the Red Deer Arena one of the most dreaded destinations for visiting teams in Canadian junior hockey for almost two decades.
Like all great championship runs, the 64 year run of the Red Deer Arena came to an end this May with the initiation of its demolition. The construction of the new Downtown Arena in Red Deer will begin this fall and is expected to open sometime in 2018. While the historic Arena is being demolished, many materials will be re-used in the new facility including the iconic neon sign that has struck fear in the hearts of visiting teams for decades.