In a Daily Herald file photo, Ed Habetler dons a 1971-72 Prince Albert Raiders' sweater, and a stylish circa-1980s Raiders' cap. On Tuesday, the Raiders announced that Habetler, a Raiders season ticket holder since day one, passed away over the weekend after a long and courageous battle with cancer. He was 78 years old. Herald photo by Marty Hastings
A member of the group that brought the Raiders to Prince Albert in 1971, Ed Habetler “personified commitment.”
On Tuesday, the Raiders announced that Habetler, a Raiders season ticket holder since day one, passed away over the weekend after a long and courageous battle with cancer.
On Dec. 12 1961, Prince Albert’s Minto Arena was destroyed by a fire, leaving Saskatchewan’s third-largest city without a major hockey team.
A decade later, a group which included Habetler, Ches Leach, Don Wickens and Reg Martsinkiw “got together and tossed around the idea of getting a new franchise in the Saskatchewan Amateur Junior Hockey League,” according to Prince Albert Raiders 1971-1996 by local author Dave Leaderhouse.
“A lot of people thought we were smoking something bad,” Habetler told The Herald’s Marty Hastings in 2010. “They thought we were crazy.”
According to Martsinkiw, one of the last living members of the team’s original board of directors, Habetler’s enthusiasm and commitment to the franchise was unmatched.
“He was the original season ticket holder,” Martsinkiw said. “He’s held onto his ticket ever since. That’s something you’ve got to acknowledge.”
Sitting on the Raiders board of directors in the team’s inaugural year in the SAJHL, Habetler played a critical role in the marketing of the franchise.
The Raiders were accepted into the league in June of 1971, however, the Communiplex, now known as the Art Hauser Centre, wasn’t built until July.
Selling season tickets for a team whose home was still under construction, Habetler’s commitment to getting things going by selling season tickets and generating fan support was tireless, Martsinkiw said.
“He made a commitment, he stuck to that commitment,” he said. “He was so committed to the team, he was one of our best marketing resources.”
Both Habetler and Martsinkiw were among the roughly 3,000 fans in attendance at the Raiders first game at the Communiplex in 1971 against the Regina Pat Blues.
With a board of directors meeting held at the Coronet Motor Hotel the night before, Martsinkiw recalled how the ice was nowhere near ready to go for the Raiders debut at their new arena.
What they did next, speaks volumes to the commitment Habetler and the other board of directors had to Prince Albert’s beloved franchise.
“After the meeting, we all went home and then came back to the Communiplex,” Martsinkiw recalled. “The maintenance people had left. We worked until six in the morning; painting the ice, flooding the ice, getting it ready for that game. That’s the type of commitment we had.”
Although the game was delayed several times, the Raiders cruised to a 9-2 triumph over the Pat Blues on what was an emotional night in Hockey Town North.
“When we played ‘O Canada,’ there were tears in everybody’s eyes,” he said. “The board of directors, we couldn’t even speak, we were so emotionally involved with this hockey team.”
More than 43 years after the Raiders’ first win at the Art Hauser Centre, Habetler and his wife of 57 years, Violet, have attended just about every game since; sitting in Section 18, Row H.
Born in Wakaw, Habetler moved to Prince Albert in 1952.
Along with his role in bringing the Raiders to Prince Albert, Habetler continued to establish a place in the local community, serving the city’s fire department for 30 years.
A funeral service for Habetler is scheduled for July 17 at 10 a.m. at St. Mark’s Roman Catholic Church. He was 78 years old.