At this time of the year when Jack Frost comes calling every night and the leaves are buried under the snow, most people of all ages can usually be found at work, Christmas shopping, at the gym, at school, cuddled up inside, or down at the rink.
Now that the shiny sheets of ice are all in at the Ponoka Culture and Recreation Complex a new exciting season of hockey, figure skating, curling, and all other exciting winter programs are in full swing. Over the many years that I was involved in the local sports scene I always had a great deal of admiration for our Ponoka Minor Hockey Association, which for countless decades of autumns and winters has actively given thousands of boys and girls from tots to teens in all skill levels with the fun and exciting opportunity of playing the great Canadian game of hockey.
There are those of us still around who go way back to the grand old days of hanging around our very first big, cold, and always busy old Ponoka arena, which was located on the far south end of Railway Street. Among my greatest memories as a little duffer was getting to be a ‘rink rat’ for a big but kindly boss by the name of Warren Hummelle, and our job was to clear the snow and push the hot water carts that flooded the ice between periods of all the hockey games and other events. We even got to have our own ‘Rowdy Rats’ hockey team, to rub shoulders with our idols — the members of those great Ponoka Stampeder Senior ‘A’ teams — and then at the end of the day there was a free treat of hot chocolate, hot dogs, burgers, and fries waiting at the big concession stand in the front lobby.
If we were lucky, our parents would enrol us into the local minor hockey program, which included big and little teams, and if we followed our childhood dreams we may get a chance to play our way through mites, peewees, bantams, midgets, and juveniles. They were among the best years of our young lives, and quite often kept us on the ice instead of in hot water. Just like in school, we worked and played hard, but along the way we learned to listen to our coaches and respect the referees and to be good sports, have fun, and play as a team, no matter who wins the game. I am sure that most boys and girls will never forget their first hockey practise, hauling that big bag of equipment through the lobby to the dressing room, clutching my new stick that my dad had to cut off because I was so short, and not being embarrassed when our moms had to come and tighten our skates or do up those pesky suspenders. At the beginning of the season one of the biggest thrills was proudly getting our first team sweater even though they sometimes came down to our knees, as well as going on a ‘road trip’ in a jam-packed family van or bus.
I was never a good hockey player, but was always a fanatic fan, and later got to cover most of the games as a sports reporter for the Ponoka Herald. In 1977 I had the great opportunity of going to work at the Ponoka complex, where for close to 10 years I got to do the scheduling for the day-to-day year-round events, making ice, running the Zamboni, and helping out in all areas with a super crew of staff members. Back there in the 1970s and ’80s the building was busy seven days a week from 7 a.m. until midnight playing host to all brackets of hockey from minor to senior to recreation, as well as figure skating, broomball, summer hockey schools, school sports, curling, tournaments, and many special activities and programs. What always impressed our staff the most was the amazing ongoing efforts and dedication of the parents, coaches, managers, executive members, and volunteers, who spend countless hours at the rink, both assisting with the events, officiating, or working in the very busy concession stand. Back in those days there were no cell phones, or iPads, or whatever, so the huge crowds of avid fans always had their ‘hockey hearts’ right into the game. Even though they may have got a little boisterous the odd time, they always cooled off at intermissions among family, friends, and visitors in the keen camaraderie of the lobby, or outside for a smoke or a breath of fresh air. The upstairs hockey and curling lounges were also always busy with meetings, special events, or fans enjoying the game in warm comfort.
Over the years I am sure that the high spirited atmosphere of the minor hockey fraternity has not changed much at all. Those same dedicated goals of giving our youth the opportunity of having fun playing the invigorating and popular game of hockey will always be there, and it will always be tremendous and ongoing support of the parents, the volunteers, the sponsors, and the entire community is what has made it all possible. As the generations roll on by perhaps our children or grand-children have finished their minor hockey careers, while others from our town and county, as shown on the photo galleries at the Complex, have moved to outstanding success at all levels.
Whatever the case there is always ‘a good game’ going on at the rink, and everyone is and always will be welcome to drop into the friendly atmosphere as a participant, a volunteer, or an ardent fan. Have a great and much warmer week, all of you.