By Carson Ellis
The Imperials hockey team has had a long history in Stettler.
Early league games only listed the team by the level of the team; however, the Imperials name started appearing in the 1933-34 season.
Playing largely for the Alberta Amateur Hockey association, the size and boundaries of their division would change over the years, often due to teams not being able to fill a roster or, as was the case in the mid-30’s, when Stettler moved to have their division include only communities that had covered rinks.
Although most seasons started in December, early schedules were tentatively based on weather conditions.
Many years saw the Imperials preparing for the season on frozen ponds when the local rink couldn’t put in a proper surface right away.
The Imperials’ players were known for being smaller than most other players; but they were regarded as some of the fastest players in the division. During regular season this would give the team a bit of an edge, but oftentimes the ice would become soft later in the season during playoffs and it was noted as hindrance to their speed.
During the war, many teams were only able to continue playing at juvenile levels in closer districts.
With many of the older players serving in the war, many of the teams were unable to fill rosters and the older-aged leagues essentially suspended play, only starting again in the 1945 season.
At the start of the season, team representatives in the division implemented a rule that teams couldn’t import players from other communities as this would make the first season back more equal for other teams.
The Imperials would be one of the teams to lodge a complaint with the league about players on other teams being imported on weak technicalities almost right away.
In 1970, the Imperials presented a team for the season, only to cancel before one of their games against the Wetaskiwin Colonels and announcing they would be withdrawing from the season.
This announcement was short lived, and a couple days later, they reversed their decision to withdraw, and remained in the 6-team league. In 1972 the team changed to Stettler Sabres and continued with the name for many years.
A grassroots movement of local coaches and hockey fans started in 2018.
The group wanted to start a senior team in Stettler for those who wanted to play. The group was looking to pay tribute to the history of hockey in the community and had debated using Sabres.
Unfortunately, the name was in use at the time, but they had also come across old photos of the Imperials and decided to use that name instead.
The Stettler Imperials returned to Stettler in the 2021-2022 season and have become a popular attraction for hockey fans in the community.
As coach Kent Hoopfer describes them, the modern team is ‘a working man’s team’.
The Imperials are one of nine teams under the East Central Senior Hockey League.
Hoopfer says that the league is strict on the boundaries that each team is allowed to recruit players from. He notes that coach/GM Ryan Koehli is outside of the boundaries but since he isn’t a player it isn’t a concern.
Imperials’ operations are overseen by a board of nine people. These individuals are from all walks of life and not just the hockey community.
There are monthly board meetings early on with the invitation for tryouts in October and the team roster decided on by Thanksgiving. The Imperials season gets underway by the last Friday or Saturday of October.
Hoopfer says he is really enjoying his involvement with the team, and that the community support has been phenomenal. He notes that the players appreciate the crowds at their games and feel motivated by the energy. He is also appreciative that they have an incredible events staff that do all the work off the ice allowing coaching staff to focus on coaching and allowing the players to get the most out of their ice time.
Hometown Productions & Media broadcasts home games on their Facebook page which helps those who can’t always make it to the games. The teams also holds a 50/50 draw at the games with all money raised going to one of eight community groups. A different group is chosen each game.