Hockey Legends

of Grande Prairie

Soldiers Ready For Rink and Battlefield

By Ron Neufeld

On July 8, 2016, Prime Minister Trudeau announced, “Canada will send a battle group of soldiers to Latvia by early 2017 as part of a NATO plan to counter fears of Russian aggression in eastern Europe.” The Latvian President, Raimonds Vejonis was quick to respond acknowledging that Canadians and Latvians have a common bond: hockey.  It is worth noting that Canada and Latvia faced off in the quarter finals of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.  Like Canadians, Latvians love hockey and Vejonis is hoping that Canadian soldiers who will start arriving early next year “will be up for a game.” (The Province Monday July 11, 2016).

This invitation from the Latvian President triggers memories of the role Canadian soldiers played in the introduction of hockey to Europe more than seven decades ago during WW11.  The Juno Beach Centre located in Normandy France is a museum that is dedicated to honour Canadian troops who landed on Juno Beach on June 6, 1944.  According to an article entitled “Dispatches From Juno: Hockey During the Second World War (November 4, 2014), “Canadians stationed in England trained for years before being sent to Sicily and Italy in 1943, and to Normandy in June 1944. Hockey was central to the social fabric and cohesion of the units stationed there. Tournaments on bases in Canada and in English towns enabled Canadian soldiers and English civilians to interact around the social event that a hockey night creates. The Maple Leaf, the Canadian Army’s newspaper during the Second World War, reported on games as did the plethora of regimental newspapers published in the field to provide humour and news from home for the fighting man overseas.” Most importantly, when the puck dropped in the face off circle it was “game on”. Players and spectators were able for the duration of the game to forget the horrors of war – the risks to life and limb – the consequences of dropping bombs and flying bullets. When the puck dropped the war stopped.


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Sixteen Grande Prairie hockey players gave their lives in combat overseas during WW11.  It is our fervent hope that current tensions in Eastern Europe will not result in warfare and loss of life.  If that should occur – the enemy beware.  During WW1 and WW11 Canadian soldiers proved to be as formidable in combat as they were on the ice: creative, skillful, daring and persistent.  In the meantime Canadians and Latvians will stand side by side in the political stand off but will tilt against each other on the ice and fans will be treated to some international hockey.

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Ron Neufeld resides in Vancouver but is Grande Prairie born and raised. He played hockey with teams such as Legion, Red Devils and Athletics. Along with Stan Neufeld, he serves as the editor and project’s “pen” writing Legend biographies and other material as needed. As a founding member of the Grande Prairie Legends of Hockey committee Ron has played a key role in the success of the project.

Educational services and advocacy for people with special needs has been a major theme throughout Ron’s career with experience in the disciplines of education, mental health and corrections. He has taught, conducted research and served in administrative positions in university settings in both Canada and the United States and is among the pioneers of distance education technologies to promote independent learning and open access to information for students in post secondary institutions. Ron is a retired professor Emeritus from the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Education. He holds a Ph.D. in Education from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., an M.A. from George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville Tennessee, a B.D. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky and a B.A. from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.