Hammertime: Ponoka Stampeder hockey tradition

Minor, junior and senior hockey in the region has a storied history for a lot of people

Mike Rainone

Hammertime

No, I haven’t lost it quite yet, but at my age I do sometimes stray just a little off the main road.

Today, here I am sitting at home under the air conditioning in my little office, it is plus 32 degrees outside and I am writing a column about hockey?

Whatever the case, like millions of others, yours truly has been a hockey fanatic since grade school, listening to Foster Hewitt on CBC radio from Maple Leaf Gardens every Saturday night and hanging out at the local arenas as a ‘rink rat’ — a fan and somewhat of a pest for as long as I can remember.

Although I wasn’t a very good hockey player, my stints around the rink and quite often on my butt included a little minor hockey in hand-me-down equipment, several years in the long-standing Ponoka and district Farm Hockey League with the wild Meniak team and a few games under the lights on the outdoor rink in the ‘guys and gals’ league up at the Alberta Hospital.

Yours truly will never forget my first hectic days as a ‘Cub Sports Reporter’ with the Ponoka Herald and getting to rub shoulders with so many great teams and players from minor hockey to Senior ‘AA’ as well as the coaches, executive members, officials, dedicated volunteers and a whole lot of very avid and loyal fans for more than 50 exciting years.

Along the way, I used to hitch a ride and get to cover a whole lot of games at home and on the road for the now legendary Ponoka Stampeders Senior ‘A’ teams during their fabulous run in the rough and rowdy Central Alberta Hockey League and on to the Western Canada Championship through the 50s, 60s and 70’s.

I will never ever forget sitting up in the freezing press box in our first old barn at the south end of 50th Street with zany CKRD radio play-by-play dude Al ‘Hoss’ Hammer, as well as volunteering to work the penalty box and even sitting up in a tiny wooden perch above the net, ready to switch on the red light for a goal as well as dodging errant slap shots from Ralph Vold and the rest of the good old boys.

Whether I was working for the newspaper or at the new complex, I passionately followed that grand ‘Ponoka Stampeder’ hockey tradition through the talented teams in the Alberta Junior ‘A’ Hockey League, into the Chinook Hockey League and then on to the Heritage Junior ‘B’ Hockey League team.

Thousands of avid local fans have cheered very loud and proud for their ‘hometown team’ over all those years and it is so great to see that our ongoing minor hockey squads proudly also have carried that name emblazoned on their team jerseys.

One could never even try to remember all the names of those hundreds of rambunctious players, teams and coaches from way back then until now. But if you take a stroll around the arena complex, you will see all the memorable photos, trophies and banners saluting the amazing accomplishments that so many teams and individuals have made in all facets of our great Canadian winter game, and still strive to achieve to this very day.

Hockey still going strong

I was thrilled to see recently that the North Central Alberta Senior ‘AA’ Hockey League will be expanding for their forthcoming 2018-19 season.

The league will be welcoming the Red Deer Rustlers and teams from Sylvan Lake and Maskwacis into the south division of the now 11-team circuit, which has been in action since 1994.

Many of us who have been around Ponoka since the 1950’s have been royally treated to countless seasons of great Senior AA hockey action, which was later complimented for several seasons by another talented Stampeder squad in the long-standing Chinook Senior ‘AAA’ Hockey League.

Wouldn’t it be great if, somewhere in the future, we may just get to see yet another Ponoka senior team playing once again in either the North Central or Chinook Hockey Leagues?

Whether it be our tiniest Ponoka Minor Hockey teams of boys and girls or all the way up to the junior A, junior B and senior teams, they have all been avidly competitive and good sports while enjoying lots of fun on the ice, as well as having the amazing support of parents, volunteers, and avid dedicated fans.

With the extreme and ongoing enthusiasm for all sports and recreation events throughout our town and county community over many decades and several generations, there is no doubt that families and individuals of all ages will always be blessed with countless opportunities to play, participate, and cheer for their chosen games, all year round.

Just for fun

I don’t feel like I am getting older — it’s more like my warranty has expired and my parts are wearing out.

Best advice for our diet — when we pick up our pizza and the cook asks if we want it cut into six or eight pieces, just ask for six and explain that you would never be able to eat eight. A great way to keep the weight off is to ‘eat and then run’ all the way back to work, around the block, or home.

Keep right on enjoying your summer to the fullest, in your own way and have a great week all of you.

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