By Lynn Calf Robe
Wacey Rabbit, a 25-year-old professional hockey player from the Kainai Nation, now calls Texas home after being signed to the San Antonio Rampage with the American Hockey League (AHL) in the 2011/2012 season. An avid hockey fan, Rabbit has been playing hockey for 22 years and looks forward to his sixth season as a professional hockey player. His illustrious hockey career has taken him across Canada and the United States, as well as Europe where he played in the Kontinental Hockey League. Last season, Rabbit played with Medvescak Zagreb in the Austrian Elite League. He has also played for the Milwaukee Admirals (2009-10) and Providence Bruins (2006-09). His Western Hockey League career included time with the Saskatoon Blades (2001-06) and the Vancouver Giants (2006-07).
Rabbit says his biggest accomplishment so far has been winning the Memorial Cup Championship with the Giants in 2007 and being drafted into the NHL by the Boston Bruins. He was selected in the fifth round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, 154th overall. He enjoys other sports, like golf and basketball, but hockey has been his passion since childhood. “All of my older cousins and friends were playing, so I wanted to play as well,” he says. “My parents wanted to get me active, so hockey was the easy choice.” Rabbit is definitely active. He goes through about 20-25 hockey sticks in a season. “I am very picky about my sticks, any scratch or crack, I get a new one.”
Rabbit is dedicated to training and says healthy eating is a key to his success. What’s in his fridge right now? A lot of water, egg whites, and raspberries. “The biggest thing as I get older is watching my diet,” he says. “Its true you are what you eat. As I get older, the slower my metabolism becomes. So my diet when I train helps me keep fit and feeling good. In the gym, I do a lot of speed and power lifting exercises. Each year, I try to get stronger and faster.” He also works up to larger goals by setting small goals first. Each small achievement helps him stay focused and motivated. “For instance, this season I would like to score more goals. Easier said than done! So I set smaller goals such as working on my shot every day during and after practice, doing different shooting drills and stick handling drills that would imitate a game situation. When I do have a similar situation in a game, I am prepared.”
Rabbit says making the NHL and becoming a regular player is his biggest goal now. He draws inspiration from his parents. “They sacrificed a lot for me to follow my dream of playing hockey in the NHL. Every time I feel tired or lazy, I think of them and what they had to give up or go without so I could play hockey.” Someone once told him that being a pro hockey player isn’t easy; if it were easy everyone would be doing it. Rabbit believes “if the mind can conceive it, the body will achieve it” and happily offers advice for aspiring hockey players from the rez: “Keep your nose clean. Work hard. Also push yourself to be the best player you can possibly be. Dream big, and do not be afraid to leave the reserve to follow those dreams.” Being in the AHL gives him an opportunity to play among his peers and fine tune his skills so he can handle him self as a pro, on and off the ice. I asked what he believes differentiates him from the competition. “My speed and my willingness to block 100mph slap shots.”
Peer pressure is tough, especially in our teens. Rabbit managed to stay focused on hockey. “I faced a lot of peer pressure growing up, but I was so focused and committed to reaching my goal of playing hockey. All the other things that were going on didn’t really matter.” Some might think hockey players are uneducated and spoiled, but Rabbit tells it like it is. “[School is] very important. The average professional career lasts only 5-7 years. After that, you join the real world. And if you are not educated and prepared, then you will have a hard time living and providing for yourself when the game is over.” He acknowledges the pressures our teens face are great, but believes setting goals and having something to look forward to can help improve decision-making. One decision that made a huge difference: “I surrounded myself with friends and family that would help me not hurt me.”
Rabbit is single, and his BFF (best friend forever) is Copey, his German Shepherd, nearly always at his side. When he’s not on the ice, he confesses to spending a lot of time watching TV shows, playing Xbox 360, and taking naps. “I am pretty good at those,” he laughs. He good-naturedly answered a few more odd questions. He wouldn’t mind having superhuman strength (that would make for a heck of a slap shot) and he gave his honest opinion of wearing socks with sandals: “Like saying the Lord’s name in vain, you just don’t do it!” When I asked whom he thought would win a jigging contest, Bobby Orr or Wayne Gretzky, he thought a moment and said, “I’ve never been in or seen a jigging contest, but I would have to say Wayne Gretzky. I don’t Think Bobby Orr’s knees could handle it, haha.”
Even though he’s in the heart of Texas now pursuing his dream, Wacey Rabbit still calls the rez home. I put it to him simply, “What is one thing you love about the rez?” He responded, “Family… all of my family lives on the reserve. So, when I go home I know I am going home to family.” Someday, he hopes to be settled down and married with kids, though he wants to keep himself healthy and play the game as long as he can. “Life after hockey is going to be interesting. I am preparing myself for that every day.”