Preparations for the Cameco Hockey Weekend began in Wadena seven months ago, with the local organizing committee working in conjunction with Cameco to bring a spectacular event to the town.
Like a brewing storm, the Cameco Hockey weekend started off quietly, with Wednesday night (Jan. 13) featuring the Atoms’ first game to kick off the five-day hockeython. A Pee Wee game finished the night with a battle between Wadena and Wynyard. Thursday night exploded with action when the Wadena Panthers played Foam Lake. The last game of the night had the Bantams on the ice, with Wadena facing Viscount.
On Friday a capacity crowd attended the banquet at the hall, where the “Voice of the Riders,” Rod Pederson, acted as emcee for the night. Guest speaker Darren Dutchyshen stole the limelight with his stories of growing up in Saskatchewan.
Temperatures outside dropped faster than a puck, bringing in the coldest weekend of the winter so far. But that did not deter sponsors, supporters and the residents of Wadena. On Saturday morning about 260 people attended what may have been one of the best pancake breakfasts Wadena has ever seen, a common statement overheard that morning. Excitement brewed, from the retelling of Darren Dutchyshen’s stories to the money raised by the live auction (around $12,000).
Ten o’clock saw the Battlefords North Stars’ head coach Kevin Hasselberg and some of the team conduct an initiation clinic with fun drills and practice sessions. The kids’ faces were lit up with excitement as they listened and learned from the pros.
By then the arena was filling with spectators coming and going. The 50/50 total was growing and the bucket draw tickets were selling to a constant huddle of hopefuls. At the concession stand, the Cameco team was seen behind the counter, flipping burgers and serving up the goods. Tim Gitzel, Dorothy Slawinski and Karen Lendzyk were spotted at the grill, and Jonathan Huntington appeared in the commentary box for a game or two.
At 1 o’clock sharp the hockey teams stood with the crowd as the national anthem was played. Members of the Wadena Skating Club proudly held aloft the flags of Canada and Saskatchewan. The female Midget game between Swift Current and Melville began and, quickly following this game, came the AAA Midgets, Notre Dame versus Tisdale. By 7 p.m. a crowd of around 900 filled the stands to watch the SJHL Notre Dame versus North Battleford game.
The 50/50 draw was made between periods and the huge payout of $5150 went to Bill and Kathy Price of Wadena. Later, Third Degree Birnz struck up the band at the community hall, where the crowd enjoyed the mix of rock and country music. By all accounts, the party did not end till the wee hours of Sunday morning.
The day of worship began with a community church service led by Pastor Tim Irving. The Pee Wee girls were excused from attending church and started Sunday games with Wadena versus Nipawin. At noon the puck was dropped between the Novice Wadena Jaguars and Kelvington. No sooner had that game finished than the Midget girls, Wadena vs Nipawin, hit the ice. At 4:00 the Wadena Midget boys entered the rink to play against Davidson. The last game of the weekend started at 7 p.m., the culmination of a five-day festival of hockey banquets, auctions, feeding frenzies, meetings of old acquaintances, welcoming people from afar, meeting, chatting and absorbing everything that is hockey.
Thanks has to go to the Cameco team, the organizing committee, the Saskatchewan Hockey Association, all the sponsors and every individual who worked at or took part in the events, those who kept the ice in good condition, and finally to those who attended, helping the committee to raise more than $100,000 for the rink.
By Andy Labdon
See our commemorative eight-page pullout in the print edition of the Jan. 25 Wadena News.