Hockey Legends

of Grande Prairie

Events

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.

NHL Hometown Hockey

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On a bitterly cold January day a convoy of trucks converged on the parking lot of Revolution Place, home to the Grande Prairie Storm Junior Hockey team. Like an army of ants employees of the NHL Hometown Hockey Program swarmed the parking lot. Overnight the parking lot took on the appearance of a midwinter circus replete with tents, an outdoor rink, live music and Hometown Hank the clown. It was the NHL’s Hometown Hockey program featuring Grande Prairie’s minor hockey program.

During a televised NHL game between Chicago and Montreal Ron McLean turned his attention to Grande Prairie. For two days there were minor hockey games in Revolution Place, pick up hockey on the outdoor ice surface on the parking lot and there was entertainment in the tents. One tent featured a Hot Stove League chaired by Tara Sloan, Canadian rock vocalist and television personality. Interviewed by Ron McLean in the same tent were retired NHL hockey players Marty McSorley, Georges Laraque and former NHL goal tender and GP Hockey legend Clint Malarchuk. The celebration of minor hockey consisted of a breakfast and a game of shinny at Muskoseepi Park acknowledging the first well organized minor hockey program at Two Rinks on the Bear Creek Flats: a program that began more than half a century ago. Bear Creek Flats Hockey produced a number of professional players but more importantly it was a major source of recreation for hundreds of young people over the years. Earlier a coach’s appreciation event was conducted in the Legends Lounge with Clint Malarchuk as guest speaker.

Local sports heroes that were recognized included Clint Malarchuk, Darren McAusland, Pete Wright, Johnny MacMillan, Vicky Sunohara, Doug Rigler, Willy deWit and Kelly Sutherland. The program was made possible by a dedicated committee of local volunteers. Kirsten Maher and Cam Nichol provided leadership. They worked tirelessly for months coordinating the efforts of ten neighbourhood associations who supported the event. Not unlike countless communities throughout Canada, Grande Prairie has a rich and extensive hockey history. These programs are the fountainhead and backbone of the NHL. It is therefore fitting that minor league hockey programs throughout Canada staffed largely by volunteers are recognized by the NHL.

Stan Neufeld

Clint Malarchuk Homecoming

Grande Prairie’s 23rd Hockey Legend

In October of this year Clint returned to his hometown for a second homecoming and was reminded of his colourful story and the support he enjoys in his childhood home. It was a homecoming like no other in which he was smothered by family and friends including his Uncle Max Henning now 91 years old. Clint acknowledged the powerful, positive role that his family and friends in Grande Prairie have played in his life. In this same spirit Grande Prairie is eager to recognize the remarkable contribution that Clint continues to make to people in all walks of life who struggle with mental health issues. Clint is a man who has turned adversity in his life to his own advantage and in the process to the advantage of countless others – what a life! Grande Prairie is proud to recognize Clint Malarchuk as a native son. He joined his Uncle Max on Grande Prairie’s Hockey Hall of Fame on Oct. 3, 2015. Clint Malarchuk, Grande Prairie’s 23rd Hockey Legend.

See the feature on Clint’s Induction