Ideally, Wacey Rabbit would be getting ready to leave his home now to prepare for another season of professional hockey.
But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, sports at all levels have been anything but normal in 2020.
As a result, Rabbit, a member of Kainai Nation (Blood Tribe) in Alberta, is not packing his bags quite yet for Florida to take on his role of player/assistant coach with the ECHL’s Jacksonville Icemen for the 2020-21 campaign. The 33-year-old centre has spent portions of the past three seasons with the Icemen in a circuit considered two steps below the National Hockey League.
This past month, however, officials with the ECHL announced its squads would not be opening their training camps as they usually do in September, followed by an early October regular season commencement. Instead, the league is now targeting a Dec. 4 start date for its upcoming campaign.
“I was supposed to leave (for Jacksonsville) in about two weeks,” said Rabbit, who now lives in Edmonton during the off-season. “But this virus has affected everybody.”
While he remains in limbo awaiting to resume his playing career, Rabbit has launched his own company dubbed WR20 Power Skills On Ice Development.
Besides providing one-on-one skills sessions to players of all ages, Rabbit has also been booked to operate a handful of camps in the coming weeks.
For starters, he will run a two-day camp running Sept. 26-27 in Lethbridge.
The camp will follow COVID-19 policies and procedures and feature a maximum of 18 skaters per session.
Sessions will be divided into three groupings. The first category is for Under 9 and Under 11 players. There’s also one for those at the Under 13 and Under 15 levels. And there will be a division for Under 18 and Juniors (under 20).
Lethbridge is about a five-hour drive from Rabbit’s current home. He explained why he chose that city to stage his camp in this month.
“It’s the closest centre to my reserve that will allow me to have a camp now,” he said.
Lethbridge is about a 40-minute drive from Kainai Nation.
Rabbit has also been booked to run a pair of five-day camps in October. Those will be held on Siksika Nation and Enoch Cree Nation.
He’s currently also seeking other opportunities, for both group and individual sessions.
Rabbit had served as a guest instructor at various hockey camps, including events at Siksika Nation and in Whitehorse, in recent years.
But for the most part in past off-seasons he’s been busily training for his own upcoming year of pro hockey.
“The last couple of years I haven’t had an opportunity to put in much time (at camps),” he said. “Now with COVID it’s allowed me to give back and show them some of the cool stuff I’ve been taught.”
Rabbit believes he is well suited to be directing younger players in skills development sessions.
“I’ve been taught by some of the best coaches,” he said.
Rabbit, played his junior hockey with the Western Hockey League’s Saskatoon Blades and Vancouver Giants. He helped the Giants win the Memorial Cup in 2007.
Rabbit had been selected by the Boston Bruins in the fifth round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Though he never played a game in the NHL, he has had a well-travelled career.
Rabbit spent portions of five seasons in North America’s top minor pro loop, the American Hockey League. He had AHL stints with the Providence Bruins, Milwaukee Admirals and San Antonio Rampage.
He’s also toiled for squads in Croatia, Norway, Japan, Italy, Czech Republic and Romania.
Though he has spent considerable time playing overseas, Rabbit said he was not keen to do so this coming season, even though some European leagues are not postponing the starts of their year.
Because of the pandemic, Rabbit opted to stay close to home for now and wait for pro hockey to commence in North America.
“If I got sick because of COVID, I wouldn’t want to be in another country all by myself,” he said.
In previous years Rabbit had explored the interest in his services by telling representatives from the 2112 Hockey Agency to explore European options for him.
“I wasn’t really comfortable with that this year,” he said. “I didn’t look at it. I didn’t put my name out there at all.”
Plus, now that he’s set up with his own hockey business, Rabbit can do things his own way.
“Having my own (business) now I can implement my own values and everything I’ve been taught,” he said.
Those looking to contact or book Rabbit for sessions can do so through [email protected]
By Sam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CJWE, CJWE