Wacey Rabbit is returning to his old stomping grounds.
Rabbit, a member of Kainai Nation in Alberta, originally thought he would be going back to Port Alberni in British Columbia for the next couple of hockey seasons.
Following a lengthy pro playing career, Rabbit turned to coaching this past season. He served as an assistant coach with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, a Junior A squad based in Port Alberni that competes in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL).
Rabbit signed a two-year contract extension with the Bulldogs in May. But then those plans changed dramatically late last month.
While checking out the latest on Twitter, Rabbit discovered that the Saskatoon Blades of the higher-calibre Western Hockey League had announced their assistant coach Ryan Marsh was leaving the organization. Marsh had accepted a coaching position with a pro team in Germany.
Rabbit had played four seasons with the Blades from 2002-06.
“I was thinking that would be a cool place to put my resume in,” Rabbit said.
But he did not submit a coaching application to the Blades since he was under contract with the Bulldogs.
As it turned out, Blades’ president and general manager Colin Priestner had Rabbit on his mind. Priestner called him to see if he would be interested in the Blades’ coaching vacancy.
“I took the phone call and one thing quickly led to another,” Rabbit said. “It was a whirlwind 24 hours. They offered me a job and I couldn’t say no. If it was any other place or any other team, I would have said no. The Blades are special to me because that’s where I played my junior.”
Before accepting the Saskatoon post, Rabbit said he had to first consult with Bulldogs’ head coach and general manager Joe Martin.
Since Rabbit’s new gig is a promotion to a higher league, Martin agreed it was the right decision to make.
“He was all for me moving on,” said Rabbit, who was the captain of the Saskatoon team during his fourth season with the Blades. “I was thankful for that.”
Priestner is thrilled he was able to add Rabbit to the Blades’ organization.
“It’s incredibly exciting to add Wacey to the coaching staff,” he said. “Not only is he one of the most beloved and respected players in Blades’ history, he went on to have an outstanding professional career as a player, gaining experience from various different teammates, coaches, and leagues around the world that he can now pass along to our players.”
Rabbit had been chosen by the Boston Bruins in the fifth round of the 2005 National Hockey League Entry Draft. Though he never made it to the NHL, Rabbit did play 15 seasons of pro hockey.
In North America he suited up for three different franchises in the American Hockey League, the continent’s top minor pro circuit. He also played for two teams in the ECHL.
Rabbit also played for pro clubs in Croatia, Czech Republic, Italy, Japan, Norway and Romania.
Rabbit, who is 35, announced his playing days were over during the summer of 2021. He began his coaching career with the Bulldogs a few months later.
“We’re fortunate he was able to get a year’s worth of experience on a strong Port Alberni team in the BCHL last year, which will make his learning curve much easier stepping into the WHL as a coach,” Priestner said.
Priestner also praised Rabbit’s leadership skills and the fact he is a role model.
“He exemplifies perseverance on and off the ice and he’s been a role model for Indigenous youth across the country,” he said.
Rabbit’s wife Ashley Callingbull has also joined the Blades’ family. Callingbull, a member of Enoch Cree Nation in Alberta, is an actor, model and motivational speaker.
Callingbull has joined the Saskatoon Entertainment Group, which not only owns the Blades but also the Saskatchewan Rush, a pro franchise that competes in the National Lacrosse League.
She will serve as an ambassador for both the Blades and Rush.
“I am incredibly excited because the Blades, when we talked to them, are all about family first and that just made me feel so welcomed because I didn’t have to be part of the organization,” she said. “I could have just been along for the ride, but they want my voice and they want my input and that’s what makes it so important to me, that representation matters and Indigenous peoples have a voice.”
Callingbull is currently serving as the game host for the Edmonton Elks of the Canadian Football League.
By Sam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com