History of Hockey in Wadena
By Angela Jones
Information from ‘Remembering Times Wadena and Area dating back to 1882’ history book.
quotes taken from Remembering Times
By Jim Headington
Additional Information supplied by: Darin Faubert and the July 28th 1999 edition of the Wadena News
Wadena Hockey Throughout the Years
Pictures dating back as far as the early 1900s and game summaries in the local papers of that time show that hockey was part of Wadena’s history right from the earliest days.
In an era where free time was minimal compared to today, the citizens of Wadena remarkably found the time and money in 1910 to construct an indoor rink where the town hall now stands (pictured above). Regrettably, this structure burnt down in 1912 and would not be rebuilt until 1935. Even then it would be ahead of its time, being the only covered rink on the line between Humboldt and Kamsack. A simple fire could not stop hockey in this town; it continued on an outdoor rink for the years that the town had no other facility. Many different age groups enjoyed the sport during this time. Ladies hockey was strong then as now, with a 1912 edition of the local paper reporting that the group looked like a “fast bunch.” The 2015-16 season marks six years since a local ladies team, known as The Felines, was resurrected.
Before World War I, hockey was an important part of Wadena’s social life. Hockey games were much anticipated events and often drew large crowds. In 1912, a heated rivalry was born between Wadena and Humboldt. Results of the games were largely disputed and likely were the talk of the town for the season. The first game of the playoffs was held in Humboldt and Wadena lost 3-1. The local paper stated that because of poor officiating “outside referees will be engaged for the remaining games.” The 100 fans who traveled by train with the Humboldt team to Wadena for Game 2 might have been intimidating, but their presence didn’t make a difference because Wadena won the game 3-2. The paper reported that Wadena won Game 3 in Humboldt with the same score and “we are pleased to say, with all local players.” By the sounds of the paper’s write-up, Humboldt added a few players from Saskatoon, Regina and Moose Jaw and even ‘let’ their manager referee the final game. Even years ago, hockey was not without controversy. The write-up did praise the opposing team’s players for their talents and condemned any locals that performed or behaved badly.
After the war, there was a renewed interest in hockey with many young men returning home. In the fall of 1946, organizers met at Ottman Meats and chose to honor the legendary 214th Battalion by naming the local hockey team the Wadena Wildcats.
Those first Wildcat teams set the bar high for all the teams that followed. According the Wes Ottman, the 1949 team won 30 of their 33 games, tying two and losing only one. During the same era, Wadena played Wynyard in a memorable 1951 series which was chronicled in the local history book. Wynyard had to cancel a tournament because of a storm and invited the Wildcats for a later game instead. Wynyard agreed to not use imports for the game. Wadena ended up winning 10-7 and Wynyard was not happy with this outcome, eventually talking Wadena into coming back for a second game. The winner was to take all the profits from the gate at the second game and Wynyard could use its imports. There was a lot of pride on that 1951 Wildcat team and they were not going to back down from a challenge. As luck would have it, the Moose Jaw Canucks lost out in the SJHL playoffs the night prior to the big game so Wadena got an import of its own in the form of David Rusnell, and another in Ted Everitt who had formerly played with the Regina Pats. The story ends with 45 seconds left in the game as Rusnell picked up a loose puck at his own blue line and skated in for a goal to give Wadena a 3-2 win in front of a packed Wynyard arena.
The team bounced around from second-place finishes to last-place finishes in the years from 1952 to 1971. The rink facilities were lacking and some years the Wildcats struggled to form a team. Shortly after a new rink was built, the 1971-72 season marked the start of a decade in which Wadena would dominate the Fishing Lake Hockey League (FLHL). The 1972 final was a testament not only to the talent on the Wildcats but also to the level of hockey being played in the FLHL. Fans regularly packed the rink, coming from as far away as Yorkton and Kamsack. The Wildcats defeated the Wheat Kings in the fifth game of the semi-finals and pulled off a Game 7 win against the Quill Lake Monarchs to win their first FLHL championship. They added five more titles before the end of the decade (1973, ’74, ’77, ’78 and ’79). The Wadena Recreation Centre was filled to capacity again in 1979 when the Wildcats progressed to the Intermediate B provincial final, defeating Hudson Bay, Humboldt, Nipawin and Unity to win the northern Saskatchewan title.
In the interest of length, I struggled with the decision to edit out the details of the provincial final. Knowing what true hockey fans the citizens of Wadena are, I was afraid that even those that remember the series like it was yesterday would be happy with nothing less than every edge-of-your-seat detail. Unity had underestimated the team from the little town of Wadena prior to the series. “Their league rivals, the Rosetown Red Wings, had won the Intermediate B southern finals, and because of the proximity of the towns and their rivalry, they had made arrangements to opt for SAHA provision that these two teams could play a best-of-three series for the provincial title once the Wildcats had been sidelined.” Unfortunately for them, this didn’t work out too well because Wadena beat visiting Unity 6-4 in the first game. In front of a passionate crowd back in Unity, the two teams battled all game before the hosts emerged with a 6-5 win. Even so, Wadena captured the northern title under the two-game, total-goals format (11-10) and advanced to the provincial final against Rosetown. The first game of the final was a bit of a shock with the Wildcats losing 12-2 at Rosetown. But the residents of Wadena did not give up on their team and the Wildcats put on an exciting performance back home in front of 1,500-plus fans. The local supporters delivered a standing ovation even after their team lost 9-7, which earned the 1979 team the title of Provincial B runners-up.
Not to be outdone in history making, the 1997-98 team took the Eastern Provincial Senior B championship prior to losing the provincial final to Lumsden in the third game of a best-of-three series. The 1998 Wildcats entered the provincial “B” category with mainly their league team and two imports from the surrounding area along with past Wildcat players from previous seasons. The first round would bring the Hudson Bay Hunters to town. The Cats would give up an early goal before cruising to a 6-1 win in Wadena and 11-8 two-game, total-goal series win. Next up was the FLHL rival, the Wynyard Monarchs. The series would be extremely tight the whole way with Wadena winning 2-1 at home and tying Wynyard 2-2 on the road for a 4-3 series win. The Cats would enter the third round as underdogs to the Langenburg Warriors, a very strong team all season with many “big name” junior hockey stars. Wadena would manage a 3-3 tie in Wadena and, two days later, beat Langenburg 5-1 on the road to take them to the provincial semi final against Carlyle. Again, the wild back-and-forth series was coming. The Cats would lose 4-3 in double overtime at home before winning 3-2 in double overtime in Carlyle, bringing the deciding game three back to Wadena. The Wildcats showed their desire to win in this game, winning 3-0 and advancing the provincial final. The Lumsden Monarchs would eventually end their great season beating the Cats in the best-of-three final with back to back victories of 6-3 and 4-2 after Wadena had won game one 4-2. The Wildcat players have always been appreciative of the support they had that season, both at home and on the road. In their final four games at home, the rink was full from end to end during the warm-ups, something that was reported as unbelievable to experience. The roar as the Cats came out of the dressing room tunnel and when they scored was often deafening and something none of the players will ever forget.
The Wadena Wildcats have had many ups and downs in the years in-between, winning some titles, losing others – but the heart of this town continues to be the players with a Wildcat on their jersey. We have successfully etched our mark over time as a town with hockey running through its blood.