Minor hockey wraps up season in style

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo Hay River Minor Hockey handed out a number of awards at its end-of-season dinner on April 27. Among the winners were Scott Belanger, left, recipient of the Keith Broadhead Award for the midget division, and Nick Buth, winner of the Matthew Taylor Award.

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
Hay River Minor Hockey handed out a number of awards at its end-of-season dinner on April 27. Among the winners were Scott Belanger, left, recipient of the Keith Broadhead Award for the midget division, and Nick Buth, winner of the Matthew Taylor Award.

Hay River Minor Hockey has wrapped up its season in style.

It held an end-of-season dinner on April 27 for about 300 people on the now ice-free surface of the arena.

And if that was not enough, former NHL star Theo Fleury – a Stanley Cup winner with the Calgary Flames and an Olympic gold medallist with Team Canada – was guest speaker with hockey-related stories from his long career.

“I think it went as well as it could have gone,” said Minor Hockey president Pennie Pokiak of the wrap-up. “People seemed happy.”

Pokiak said the address by Fleury was really motivational for the young players.

“I think most of the kids – I’m not going to say the very young ones – most of the kids knew who he was, and they were very excited to have him there,” she said, noting he posed for pictures with many people and took questions.

“He was a good speaker,” Pokiak said. “I think he’s really down to earth and he was very real … people could relate to him.”

Apparently feeling right at home at the event, Fleury told the crowd he is not sure how many similar hockey banquets he attended in his hometown of Russell, Man.

“But this is exactly what we used to do,” he said.

Fleury passed along what he called the “most important lesson” he ever learned as a hockey player.

“It’s not about skating. It’s not about shooting. It’s not about passing,” he said. “But it’s about team.”

And he also described the three ingredients for success in hockey – respecting others, loving and caring for teammates, and accepting the consequences of your actions.

“We’re all responsible for our decisions and our choices and our actions,” he said, noting that when he was growing up in Manitoba, young players didn’t play if they were disrespectful, had bad grades in school or used bad language.

“That’s where I learned and got the blueprint for success,” he said, noting his whole childhood was about making it to the NHL.

Fleury said he also learned the importance of winning.

Pointing to the scoreboard at the arena, he said, if winning wasn’t important, it wouldn’t be there.

The 15-year veteran of the NHL also said he was one of just three players of his height – 5 ft. 6 in. – to make it to the league in its long history.

“I don’t know how many times people told me I’m too small,” he said.

Even though he won the Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989 and helped Canada with gold at the Salt Lake City Olympics, Fleury didn’t point to those as his biggest thrill in hockey.

Instead, he pointed to winning the World Junior Championships in 1988.

“I can tell you that it was one of the biggest thrills of my whole entire hockey career,” he said.

Pokiak said this year’s Minor Hockey dinner was the first time there has been a guest speaker like Fleury since she has been involved.

“The opportunity came up,” she said. “Trevor Beck approached us on behalf of the Metis association, and asked if we would be interested in having him come to our year-end banquet. I said, ‘Yes. Yes we would.’ Trevor really made it happen. He pulled that off.”

Beck, the president of the Hay River Metis Government Council, said the organization began working on getting Fleury to Hay River two years ago, having looked at the idea last year and once again this year.

“We took it on again and pushed and worked it out,” he said.

Beck said his goal was to get Fleury speaking to young people.

“Exactly how it worked out,” he said.

The Minor Hockey event also included the presentation of a number of awards.

The Matthew Taylor Award – given to a midget player with the most heart and determination – was presented to Nick Buth.

The award is named in memory of a former minor hockey player who died in a vehicle accident in 2010.

At the wrap-up dinner, there was also mention of a possible significant event next year.

Chris Johnston of the Memorial Hockey Challenge in Yellowknife said consideration is being given to a game in Hay River in the fall of 2017 to mark the 10th anniversary of the death of RCMP Const. Christopher Worden.

“We’re working on doing a little bit of a Battle of Alberta,” said Johnston, explaining the game would involve some retired Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames.

Pokiak said such a game would be really exciting but that nothing has been finalized.

“It’s in the works,” she said.

The Hay River Minor Hockey Association will hold its annual general meeting on May 25.

–Paul Bickford