Indigenous hockey pro joins coaching staff of BC Junior A squad

Thursday, October 21st, 2021 10:34am


Image Caption

Wacey Rabbit is a new assistant coach with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. Action shot courtesy of the Jacksonville Icemen.


“I’ve worked with Wacey in hockey schools for a few years now, and I knew at some point he would coach for a living.” — Joe Martin, Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ head coach/general manager.
By Sam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

It didn’t take Wacey Rabbit long to find a new hockey gig.

Rabbit, who is from Kainai Nation in Alberta, announced his retirement from his pro playing career in late August following 15 seasons that saw him suit up for squads in seven different countries.

Within a few short weeks, however, Rabbit, 34, was interviewing for a handful of clubs in order to officially launch his coaching career.

He’s now an assistant coach with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, a Junior A club that competes in the British Columbia Hockey League.

Rabbit, who was living in Edmonton, headed west to join the Bulldogs, who are based in Port Alberni, B.C., two days after marrying model, actor and First Nations activist Ashley Callingbull.

The couple have rented a home on Sproat Lake, a 10-minute drive from the Bulldogs’ home rink, Weyerhaeuser Arena.

“It takes about 15 minutes if we see a bear that day,” said Rabbit, adding bear sightings are frequent occurrences near his home.

Rabbit had been drafted in the fifth round, 154th over-all, by the Boston Bruins in the 2005 National Hockey League (NHL) Entry Draft.

He never played a game in the NHL but had a lengthy pro career. Besides playing for five different American franchises in the American Hockey League and ECHL, Rabbit also had stints with pro teams in Croatia, Norway, Japan, Italy, Czech Republic and Romania.

Rabbit has known for a few years that coaching was something he wanted to explore. He had served as a player/coach the last couple of seasons with the ECHL’s Jacksonville Icemen.

This past summer officials from a pair of Western Hockey League (WHL) organizations approached him to see if he would be interested in an assistant coach position.
“I didn’t really put my name into the hat,” Rabbit said.

Yet he landed interviews for coaching jobs with the two WHL clubs.
“For me it was a good learning experience,” Rabbit said, despite the fact he did not land either WHL opportunity.

As for his job with the Bulldogs, Rabbit already had a connection with a key individual there. He had previously worked at hockey camps in Whitehorse with Alberni Valley head coach/general manager Joe Martin.

“I’ve worked with Wacey in hockey schools for a few years now, and I knew at some point he would coach for a living,” Martin said. “His last few years of professional hockey, teammates and staff relied on him to help develop young players.”

David Michaud, the Bulldogs’ president, is also thrilled Rabbit has joined the squad’s coaching staff.

“Adding a coach with Wacey’s playing history is a huge win for our players,” Michaud said. “Wacey will help our players in so many facets, both on and off the ice. I’m excited for the chance to work with Wacey.”

The Bulldogs are one of nine clubs that compete in the BCHL’s Coastal Division. Others in the division are Nanaimo Clippers, Victoria Grizzlies, Langley Rivermen, Chilliwack Chiefs, Coquitlam Express, Surrey Eagles, Powell River Kings and Cowichan Valley Capitals.

The BCHL also has a nine-team Interior Division.

“This is a good opportunity for me to learn,” Rabbit said.

He’s excited his coaching career is kicking off in the BCHL, considered one of, if not the top Junior A league in Canada.

The BCHL was one of the 10 Junior A circuits in the country that were part of the Canadian Junior Hockey League. But the BCHL left the national loop earlier this year, meaning its eventual league champion will not have the opportunity now to compete at regional or national championships.

Rabbit is excited about the fact he’s now doing his best to develop young players.

“I just want them to succeed and achieve their dreams,” he said.

Several of the current Bulldogs’ players were already familiar with Rabbit. This past January he was one of the pro players that had been invited to speak to Alberni Valley players via a Zoom call.

“I have played at a high level,” Rabbit said, explaining in part what he can bring to the Bulldogs’ organization. “And they’re going through the same things that I went through.”

Rabbit is hoping to eventually move up the coaching ladder.

“Like any player, you want to be at the highest level possible,” he said. “The NHL is the highest level. I understand it’s going to take a lot of hard work and time.”

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.