Most sports fans are content to limit their involvement to watching games, wearing their jersey and maybe collecting the odd player autograph when the opportunity presents itself.
Then there are those who are a little more hardcore – fans who want to go the extra mile and support their favourite team more directly.
The Abbotsford Heat have such a group of diehards, and they’ve come together to launch a booster club called Heat Generation.
The purpose of the 80-member organization is to create interest in the team while offering practical support to the players on a variety of fronts.
Heat Generation gives out Welcome Wagon-style packages to players each fall when they arrive in Abbotsford to familiarize them with the community, and hosted a season-ending dinner for the team last spring. They’re also in the process of launching an adopt-a-player program which would pair athletes with local families. Having access to an occasional home-cooked meal is no small thing, particularly for rookies straight out of junior hockey who are living on their own for the first time.
“We’re not sure how many players are going to put their name in the hat (for the adopt-a-player program), but it’s just to give them somewhere to call home,” explained Rolf Spaeti, Heat Generation co-chair.
“We just want to support the Abbotsford Heat – make them feel a part of the community.”
The booster club was the brainchild of Spaeti, a Heat season ticket holder who became aware of similar organizations in other AHL cities and pitched the idea to team president Ryan Walter in the summer of 2012. Walter encouraged him to put together a proposal, and Walter’s wife Jennifer became the group’s secretary during its inaugural season of 2012-13.
Head coach Troy Ward has also taken a direct interest in Heat Generation – he attends all of the club’s meetings in order to provide guidance from the hockey team’s side of things.
“Obviously our following in the community isn’t huge,” Ward noted. “But the people that do embrace it, I think they should have a direct line to the coach. I appreciate their support on behalf of the team.”
Booster clubs are, in fact, an initiative close to Ward’s heart. In 1986, as a 24-year-old rookie head coach at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (an NCAA Div. 3 program), he gathered a group of local businessmen in his living room to pitch the team’s first booster club.
“I brought all these business guys to what I’d call a shack, back then,” he recalled with a chuckle. “It was called the Center Ice Club, and it’s still going today. So I’ve had a passion for what they (booster clubs) do and how they function.”
In addition to their player-oriented activities, Heat Generation members run a booth on the concourse at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre during games, hosting contests where fans can make predictions on which player will score the team’s first goal that night.
The club also gives out a trophy at season’s end to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of sportsmanship, perseverance, and leadership on the ice and who is a positive role model in the community. Goalie Danny Taylor won the inaugural award for 2012-13.
“The ulterior motive for me (being involved in the booster club) was just to promote the game and be a really good fan,” explained Heat Generation co-chair Gary McCaskill, an Abbotsford resident who spent decades scouting and coaching hockey at the junior level.
“I was excited when I found out the Heat were coming to Abbotsford. It gave me a quality of hockey to watch that I really appreciate, and I really enjoy watching all these young kids develop and move on to their future careers. I wanted to be able to promote it to people in Abbotsford.
“If you’re a hockey fan, come on out. I don’t care if you wear a Detroit jersey or a Canucks jersey or a Boston jersey, it doesn’t matter. Come on out.”
For more information on the booster club, visit heatgeneration.ca.