Vancouver Giants

A Leader On and Off the Ice: Wacey Rabbit

 

Wacey Rabbit was born in Lethbridge, Alberta in 1986.

An interesting fact about Wacey is he was named after Wacey Cathey who was a famous cowboy and rodeo star. He began playing hockey at a very young age and it has shaped all aspects of his life ever since.

Time with Saskatoon

Before Wacey came over to the Giants, he spent four seasons with the Saskatoon Blades. During that time, he was named captain, competed in the CHL Top Prospects Game, and won the Humanitarian of the Year Award. His stellar play on the ice led him to be drafted in the fifth round of the 2005 NHL entry draft by the Boston Bruins. Wacey compiled 186 points during his 259 games with the Blades.

“They (Saskatchewan) don’t have many professional sports so junior hockey rules all. The way the Canucks were treated, that is how we were treated in Saskatchewan as junior hockey players.”

Humanitarian of the Year Award:

During his time with the Blades, Wacey won the Doug Wickenheiser award for his humanitarian work in the community.

“You don’t get into the community stuff to win awards. You try and grow the game and try to be a familiar face in the community you are playing in. When I was drafted as a Blade, Jack Brodsky was our owner and always made sure that, although we were Blades, we were also citizens of the community first. For me, Saskatoon has a high Indigenous population, and I am First Nations, so I wanted to make sure I was seen by both my community and the surrounding areas. I had a great relationship with the people of Saskatoon, especially the Indigenous kids in urban Saskatoon and the nearby reserves.

“In my 19-year-old year, I was named captain, so my notoriety was higher in the community. I could do more stuff because I was not going to school, so my priority when I was not on the ice was to do stuff like bringing one of the Blades players to different communities. They would play floor hockey, read to the kids, or bring a select few kids in to have a pizza party or watch a game.

“I wanted these kids to know that in hockey, they had someone who looked like them. I had Shane Peacock with the Lethbridge Hurricanes growing up when I was five, and I recognized that. They always said I would never make it and there I was, the captain of a Western Hockey League franchise.”

The message Wacey wants to convey to youth is that if you work hard, you can succeed. Many people told Wacey he would never make it in hockey, but his perseverance proved them wrong. If youth continue to work and dedicate themselves to what they love, they can be as successful as Wacey was.

Coming to Vancouver from the AHL:

After Wacey was set down to the ECHL in his first professional season, his agent asked if he would want to go back to junior. The only way Wacey would come back is if he went to a team that could compete for a championship. The Giants stepped up and brought Rabbit to the Lower Mainland. There were other teams in on Rabbit, but Vancouver was able to make the deal happen. As they were hosting the Memorial Cup that year, it gave Wacey the opportunity he wanted to come back as a 20-year-old to compete and win.

“Coming to Vancouver was special. From day one, I did not have to do anything besides play hockey because they provided everything that we needed. There were no excuses whether it was off the ice with fitness or recovery. Our travel was amazing. Don Hay was probably the best coach in the Western Hockey League in history. It was a professional organization for a junior team and my time there was awesome.”

The Fog Game:

Game Seven of the 2007 WHL Final will go down as one of the most memorable game sevens in history. Not only did the game determine who would lift the Ed Chynoweth Cup, but it involved double overtime, fog so thick they had to delay the game, and a goal from Wacey Rabbit.

“I always remember at the beginning of the game even before it started that it was a nice day. You could warm up outside and see all the people in the parking lot. The arena in Medicine Hat was packed, even from the warmup. The jitters were there but once the puck dropped; it was all business.

“I remember as a 20-year-old that you try to be the rock or stable force in your dressing room, but I had just as many nerves as anybody. Once that goal went in, it was a punch to the stomach. That same player had ended my junior career twice. The year before, Medicine Hat had taken us out in the second round in Saskatoon. I thought that was the end of my junior career and now he does it here again. Both teams deserved to win. It was eerie and it was fun. That atmosphere and the fans. We hated each other. It made for a great storyline and you didn’t have to read in the paper how much we hated each other because you could see it in the game.”

Memorial Cup:

Although they lost the WHL championship, The Giants earned a place in the Memorial Cup by being the hosts. They lost a second time to Medicine Hat in the group stage but found their way to the finals. This would set up round three versus Medicine Hat, but this time for the Memorial Cup.

“It could have gone either way again but that night we were not going to be denied. You look at Lucic’s MVP shift and that kind of set the tone from there. We said you know what, not tonight. You may beat us in a seven-game series and a round-robin game but tonight it’s our night. It’s the Giants’ night.  You look down the bench at all the players who have gone on to have good careers whether it was in the CIS or pro level. Even away from hockey, they have had successful lives. It probably had to do a lot with that game. It’s a huge confidence booster. You take a look at yourself before the game and what you can do for each other.

“For 60 minutes, we were the best team on earth. To win it in front of our fans was something that was super special. I was only there for a short time in Vancouver, but I felt like I was there for a lifetime because when you win, you build those relationships and friendships for life.”

Pro Career:

Wacey Rabbit has traveled the world playing for teams in what can be considered non-traditional hockey markets. This includes Japan, Italy, and Romania. He has also played in Croatia, Norway, and the Czech Republic.

(Photo courtesy of the Vancouver Giants)

“Czech Republic is probably a bigger hockey market than Canada. It is nuts there. Hockey rules all. Especially in Europe, it’s football, but not in the Czech Republic. We would sell out the same size as Rogers Arena in Vancouver. In Italy, we lived in the Alps which was cool. When I did leave the American Hockey League for Europe, it was turning the page that I wasn’t going to make the NHL but I’m still young enough and healthy where I can use hockey as a life tool and travel the world. How often do you get to live in Japan you know? Norway was awesome, played there for three years. We lived right in Oslo. Croatia was beautiful, our fans were crazy in the Austrian League.

“In Japan, we got to travel to South Korea and do the demilitarized zone walk between North and South Korea. We walked the Great Wall of China. It was a cool league but different for sure. In Japan in the Hokaiddō province, there was not a lot of English, so it was the first time I got to experience real culture shock.”

Back to the ECHL:

Currently, Rabbit is playing for the Jacksonville Icemen in the ECHL

“This will be my fourth stop here. It is currently one of the top 5 places in the league for attendance. The fans are very knowledgeable and very passionate. To rival an NFL team in a city is pretty cool. You are recognized. It’s Florida so not a bad place to be. We are going to be in a moving bubble this year so you can only go to certain restaurants or places. We can still go to the beaches, but we just try to keep our bubble small. It’s going to be a privilege to play hockey this year because you look at the climate of the world right now, there is a lot of people losing their jobs, so you have to be thankful.”

First Nations Heritage:

Wacey Rabbit is from the Kainai. The Kainai tribe is part of the Blackfoot Confederacy. The Kainai tribe or otherwise known as the Blood Tribe were fierce warriors who relied on Buffalo for food, shelter, clothing, and the tools they used. The tribe is located in Southern Alberta.

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, the Kainai holds the largest reserve by area in Canada. This is called Blood 148. The Kainai Nation also holds a second reserve known as the “timber limit” where fishing and hunting occur. Earlier this year, Wacey was named The Indigenous Sports Council of Alberta’s Hockey Ambassador. The ISCA’s goal is to create unity through recreation and sport in Indigenous Communities across Alberta and North America. Jacob Hendy, who runs the organization, was looking for a hockey ambassador and Wacey was selected for the role.

“At this time of my life and my career, it’s time to give back. Hockey has done such an amazing thing for me and taken me to places all over. I want to make sure that the upcoming generation has the same experiences and that they know that if they do work hard that their dreams are possible. It doesn’t have to be in sports or academics but if they pursue their passion and work hard, there is a place for them in this world. I’ve been to a couple of First Nations communities even during the pandemic.

“I wanted to make sure that in this state, especially with their mental health and their physical health that even if they were with me for an hour on the ice, they had the chance to be kids. I just try and make it as fun as possible on the ice with them by bringing something different to every community.”

A Mentor in the Community:

Wacey is a mentor to First Nation youth and young adults who watched him play and have followed his career so far.

“It’s an honour to work with youth. For me to go visit these communities and to have these kids who are now adults reach out to me and say that I played a part or they remember me playing hockey that’s the most important part. It’s just an honour for me and such a privilege to work with them. I think it is important for the next generation to know that there is a place in this world for them. You have to work hard and earn it. Getting away and out of your comfort zone is where growth is and it’s important that they find their way and potential whatever their passion is.”

WR20 Power Kills on Ice Hockey Development and looking to the future:

This year, Rabbit has started the WR20 Power Skills on Ice Hockey Development program. Wacey works with current players like Dillon Dube, as well as former players like Theo Fleury to bring hockey camps to communities all over Alberta. The camps are open to male and female players of all skill levels. Although his pro hockey career as a player is winding down, he still loves the game and wants to give back through his hockey school.

“At the end of the day, whatever makes you happiest is most important and hockey makes me happy. I’ve had a wonderful career that is coming to an end and now it is time for me to give back. I hope one or two kids get something out of this and that they realize they have to work hard, but that hockey is just a game and it’s fun. Make sure to enjoy yourself.

“I want to stay in hockey whether that is through development or coaching. This could be at the Western Hockey League ranks or professional ranks. Everyone’s dream is to be in the NHL so if I can’t make it as a player, maybe I can make it as a coach. Just to be a part of the game again would be a privilege.”

Wacey’s Legacy:

Although Wacey Rabbit was only in Vancouver for half a season, his impact on the team will never be forgotten. He helped the Giants to their only Memorial Cup in franchise history and he has carved out a successful professional career. Now that his career is ending, Wacey is giving back to his community by ensuring First Nations youth have an opportunity to play the game through the hockey school he founded. Wacey Rabbit is a champion both on and off the ice. He has dedicated his life to the game he loves and is now ready to give back. Giving youth a chance to play hockey and develop every lasting relationship is very important especially during COVID times. Wacey is an incredible alumnus and is someone other players can look to as a fantastic role model.

Thank you for all you do, Wacey.

If you or anyone you know wants to host Wacey and his team at WR20 for any camps, you can contact him at WR20Powerskill@outlook.com or on Twitter @WR20PowerSkill.

 

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