With a definite chill in the air, the leaves turning, and the nights getting longer we can’t help looking ahead just a little and thinking about a hopefully bountiful harvest in both countryside fields and back yards, a new season of sports, lots of garage sales, and a joyful family Thanksgiving, all magically taking place within a long and balmy fall that will last at least until way after Halloween? While many will be anxiously looking forward to getting in a few more tees times, taking advantage of the great fall sales on warm winter wardrobes, cold weather toys, and hot holiday getaways into the sand and sun, most of us will just “dig in” and get ready for Mother Natures’ inevitable and usually sudden transformation into a frozen Alberta wonderland of ice and snow.
When I was working for the Town of Ponoka Recreation Department from 1977 to 1986 some of my favourite memories came after putting the summer equipment away and heading back to the complex to prepare the building for another very busy season of hockey, curling, figure skating, broomball, schools, and all the other events and programs that took place non-stop throughout the fall and winter from September until April. For several years in those days the popular Black Elk Hockey Camp would take over the rink for six weeks, so the two sheets of ice had to be cooled down and prepared in the middle of our hot summer, which was always a lot of fun amongst the high humidity and fog. While lots of people dressed in shorts and tank tops would pop in to visit us and inquire when the ice would be ready, our very dedicated and determined staff would be out and about on those huge cement slabs in our parkas and ski-pants from early morning until late at night slowly pouring thousands of gallons of water on each surface. After checking the ice plant and getting a quick bite and a cup of coffee we would put on another of many floods until it was built up enough to paint the whole sheet white. Then it would be time to measure and sketch out the lines, circles, and logos before getting down on our hands and knees and carefully painting them on both sheets of ice, which by the way is now all done in paper and plastic. The final process was to keep flooding by hand with miles of hose until it was at the right depth to bring out the grand old zamboni to get it in top shape for the new season ahead. The rest of the crew were also very busy putting up the heavy plexi-glass, re-stringing the hockey nets, and getting the dressing rooms, bathrooms, and everything else around the building ready for a hot winter season of seven days a week morning to midnight action. That first opening day was always wild and wonderful as the excited throngs of hockey players, figure skaters, parents, grandparents, coaches, team officials, and all sorts of spectators came rushing through those big front doors, all chomping at the bit for the first drop of the puck, practice, game, and tournament. Meanwhile down the hall at the curling rink the six long sheets of ice were being carefully put into place in preparation for an exciting season of league curling, bonspiels, and special events. In the meantime throughout the building and around town registrations are always being taken for the countless fall/winter programs and events that are being offered in all of our other excellent recreation facilities and around the community.
Once the ice was in I always looked forward to spending many hours in the complex front lobby office, meeting with people, setting up the practices, games, and special event schedules for each month and throughout the entire season. Once everything got started around mid-September the lobby, the rinks, and the stands were always very busy, while the concession stand was always a great place to relax in between periods and grab a quick snack and a beverage, to meet old and new friends, and to check out all the photos on the walls of our legendary hockey players and teams. It will always be a real treat to watch all the figure skaters, players and teams from tiny mites to midgets, and all the other teams and eager participants packing in their equipment in keen anticipation of a couple of exciting hours of whirls and twirls, stops/ starts/ slap shots/ and saves, along with all the other invigorating action out there on those two big shiny sheets of perfect ice. It is always so great to see so many parents and friends coming to the rink to support the participants both at home and on the road, to cheer on the efforts of both teams, with hopes that despite the heat of the game they’re always on their best behavior and there’s good sportsmanship from up in the stands.
As always the coaches, managers, and instructors will be working closely with their new-found and returning charges, urging them to give their best efforts in practices and games, to play fair, to be good sports and team mates, to respect the referees and other officials, but to always have fun and shake hands with the opposition, no matter what the result of your game may be. How great it has been to see our grand Ponoka hockey tradition very actively and proudly carrying on for decades of generations on our busy indoor and outdoor rinks of both yesterday and today. Get ready to have another super season through 2019-2020, and then look forward to a balmy fall week, all of you.