The newest assistant coach for the Alberni Valley Bulldogs will be here to stay for another two years.
The Alberni Valley Bulldogs announced last month that they have agreed to terms on a two-year contract extension for assistant coach Wacey Rabbit to remain with the club through 2024.
Rabbit said he previously worked at a hockey school in Whitehorse, Yukon, where he met current Alberni Valley Bulldogs head coach Joe Martin. A vacant spot came up with the Bulldogs just as Rabbit was considering retirement from his professional career, and Martin offered him the job. The rest is history.
Rabbit joined Martin’s staff in the 2021-22 season after a lengthy professional playing career. Born in Lethbridge, Alberta and raised on the nearby Kainai First Nation, Rabbit’s junior hockey career began with the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Saskatoon Blades. After being drafted 154th overall by the Boston Bruins in the 2005 NHL entry draft, Rabbit made his professional hockey debut with the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Providence Bruins in 2006. After being sent to the ECHL, Rabbit returned to Junior Hockey and was traded to the Vancouver Giants, where he scored 20 points in 22 playoff games before winning the Memorial Cup. Off the ice, he was named the recipient of the Doug Wickenheiser Memorial Award as the WHL’s Humanitarian of the Year.
The next 16 years saw Rabbit play in North America, as well as overseas in Croatia, Norway, Japan, Italy, Czech Republic and Romania.
His last two seasons were spent with the ECHL’s Jacksonville Icemen before he announced his retirement in 2021.
For Rabbit, the transition from playing to coaching full-time has been a smooth one.
“Coaching is a lot easier on my body than playing,” Rabbit laughed.
Coaching has been a “really rewarding” experience, he explained.
“These young men, they want to move on and go to college and go pro,” said Rabbit. “My job is to help them achieve that. After my first practice with the Bulldogs, I knew I made the right decision.”
In Rabbit’s first season with the Bulldogs, the team went 35-15-3-1 and claimed the Coastal Conference regular season pennant for the first time in a decade.
However, the team only made it to the second round of the playoffs before they were eliminated in six games by the Langley Rivermen.
While Rabbit, like the rest of his team, was disappointed in the results, he said he is “very proud” of his team.
“We had some graduating guys who had really big years,” he said. “And some of our younger players had a really big impact. It can be a shock sometimes, going from minor hockey into the BCHL.”
With a strong core returning for the 2022-23 season, Rabbit says he is excited to come back and finish what this year’s club has started.
“You get into coaching and team sports to win,” said Rabbit. “And that’s always our goal. Next year we’re expecting to go further in the playoffs, and maybe even win a championship.”
Bulldogs club president David Michaud said having Rabbit back in the fold is a “tremendous win” for the organization.
“Wacey has been a great addition to our staff and I know our players have learned a ton from him,” he said in a news release. “I’m excited for Joe and Wacey to have the chance to build on our success of last season and take the next step.”
Martin echoed Michaud’s statement. “Coaching with Wacey again is very exciting for me,” he said. “He brings an infinite value to our dressing room, on the ice, and our team culture.”
In the meantime, Rabbit and his wife, Ashley Callingbull, have been thoroughly enjoying their time in Port Alberni. The couple has purchased a house on Sproat Lake and are getting to know the community.
Prior to joining the Bulldogs, Rabbit said he had never even been to Vancouver Island. Now, he calls Port Alberni “one of the most beautiful places in the world.”
One of his goals next year is to get more fans into the stands for Alberni Valley Bulldogs games. After almost two years of COVID-19 restrictions, he said it will be exciting to see a full arena again.
“You walk around town here and everybody is wearing Bulldogs hats,” said Rabbit. “That’s what I love about junior hockey—the community.”