He hails from a time when equipment managers and athletic therapists were one and the same, simply known as ‘trainers.’
Of course, Western Hockey League teams have long since gone to two people to fill the positions, yet Dave ‘Radar’ Horning is still going full steam for the Red Deer Rebels.
The Rebels’ equipment manager worked his 2,000th game behind a WHL bench when Red Deer hosted the Edmonton Oil Kings a week ago Tuesday.
Clearly, he’s come a long way since leaving his hometown of Innisfail to earn a bachelor of physical education degree at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, where he also worked with the Sherwood Park major bantam and midget AAA teams while proceeding with his secondary education.
Horning then served as the Prince Albert Raiders’ trainer for four seasons before jumping ship and joining the Rebels in 1995.
“I grew up in Innisfail and have always had a love for the central Alberta region,” he said this week. “When the opportunity arose here I jumped in my vehicle and drove back home.”
That was nearly 24 years ago, at a time when the now 53-year-old never envisioned working 2,000 WHL games.
“No, never,” he said. “That’s 28 years in the league and it’s been a great run and hopefully it continues.”
Even though he’s reached a milestone that’s difficult to comprehend, Horning isn’t even the grand-daddy of WHL equipment managers.
“I have a ways to go to catch the guy in Tri-City who’s pushing 3,200 games,” Horning said of Innes Mackie.
Like any employee in any vocation, Horning has undoubtedly experienced some tough days on the job. But those days pale in comparison to the good times.
“If you don’t enjoy the bus travel and everything else that goes with the job, then you’re definitely in the wrong business,” he said. “I grew up in the rink in Innisfail and enjoy coming to the rink here every day as well.
“Hockey was a passion of mine growing up. I tried my hand at the junior hockey thing as a goaltender but that didn’t work out for me. But I wanted to say in the industry somehow and when the doors opened up I walked through and I’m still here today.”
As for the highlights he’s experienced during his 24-season run with the Rebels . . .
“I’ve been so fortunate to be involved in the Memorial Cup and go on some really good playoffs runs in the early 2000s,” he said.
Horning’s work over the years caught the attention of Hockey Çanada and he travelled to Japan, Sweden, Russia and Switzerland to work with Canadian teams in international events, including the 1997 world juniors.
“It’s been a fantastic ride,” he said. “There have been so many wonderful times and I’m hoping there’s a lot more excitement and things to venture through over the next few years.”
Horning and his wife Melanie have two daughters — Joleen, who will turn 18 shortly and has graduated from high school, and Jessica, 15.
Notable: The Rebels open a best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final with the Prince Albert Raiders on the road Friday and Saturday. Games 3 and 4 will be played Tuesday and Wednesday at the Centrium . . . Rebels winger Brandon Hagel, who recorded 102 points this season, including 41 goals, has been named to the Eastern Conference second all-star team.