Remember when the Fish Tank rocked?

It was 25 years ago on Sept. 8, 1994 when the Lakeland Eagles were officially accepted in to the NPHL.

Hard to believe it was 25 years! Memories both good and bad still remain with its rabid and loyal fan base, most being good.

It was the late Hector Lamouche that proposed the idea of a team. Francis Lessard came up with the name Lakeland Eagles to reflect its regional base.

In its early years, the Eagles enjoyed limited success but it wasn’t long before they were a league powerhouse. Winning at the Fish Tank [H.W. Fish Arena in McLennan] was next to impossible in the mid- to late 1990s.

I will never forget the first Lakeland – High Prairie game played at the Sports Palace Dec. 29, 1994. A packed house in full holiday fever made for an electrifying atmosphere. A great move by the league to schedule the game just after Christmas! Ken Stewart scored the game-winner on a third period breakaway for the Regals in an 8-7 win.

I also remember the terrific battles with the Grimshaw Huskies and Spirit River Rangers. The Eagles came so close to winning the coveted title but lost in the NPHL Finals a record seven straight times, not in consecutive years, however.

Of note, the utter hatred the Rangers and Eagles had for each other made for scintillating hockey. Eagles fans, remember Brandon Coates aka Public Enemy Number 1? Watching him and the Eagles go at it was worth the price of admission alone.

Teams loved the Eagles from a financial point. Especially when the team was winning, fans traveled well with the team. Many, many times, there were more fans of the Eagles at road games than the home teams. This was especially true at the Sports Palace, where the local supporters came in full throat.

The Eagles’ all-out run-and-gun style was appealing to its fan base, but a major headache for opposing goaltenders. In the end, the team’s inability to play defence against the best the NPHL had to offer probably cost it a title or two. But it sure the hell was exciting!

In the first decade of the team, the club could boast it was almost 100 per cent local players. At the time, High Prairie Minor Hockey was producing enough players to feed two quality NPHL clubs – Lakeland and High Prairie. We will never see times like that again.

So what went wrong as the years waned? Rather than pinpoint one reason, an avalanche of misfortune occurred from other teams offering money for play, a weaker executive than the one that first foraged into the league, and the fact the pipeline gushing players from High Prairie Minor Hockey lessened. There were certainly new stars, but not the number being produced in the team’s early days.

It now brings us full circle. The Eagles were essentially formed to give Indigenous people a place to play. Right now, that place to play is High Prairie. Whether the Eagles will live to skate again, I don’t know.

The Eagles will be remembered. There is just that one blemish of never drinking the champagne from the championship trophy. Still, remember the team with pride and with joy. For the most part of its history, it was a great run.

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  1. My biggest memory was the finals against Grimshaw Huskies, as we got to the game way to early it as sold out already, we knew a player and texted him he said go to the side of the building where the Eagles dressing room was and he would let us in, we got in but sadly though the Eagles lost that game, won the next in OT but lost game 7 I think.

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