Thursday, December 29, 2016

Day to remember in Swift Current ... Milestone for Mackie ... 350 games played in one season?


The Coquihalla Highway between Kamloops and Hope B.C., was closed for part of Thursday, while the Trans-Canada Highway, which is the other route to and from Vancouver, also was shut down.
Yes, the weather was nasty, as it often is in the mountains at this time of year.
The Victoria Royals, however, were able to get through. After all, they’ve got a Friday night date with the Rockets in Kelowna. Later today (Friday), the Kamloops Blazers have to get to Langley, B.C., in order to play the Vancouver Giants. The Blazers, then, will be heading over the Coq sometime today.
Having lived in Winnipeg, Brandon and Regina from 1971 until the spring of 2000, and having written
extensively about the crash of the Swift Current Broncos’ bus on Dec. 30, 1986, I thought I knew something about what WHL teams and their bus drivers are sometimes faced with in terms of weather.
But that was before I knew anything about the Coquihalla, the Coquihalla Connector that runs from Merritt, B.C., to Kelowna, or what is referred to as the Canyon route, which is the Trans-Canada Highway through the Fraser Canyon. (The latter was shut down again late last night when a semi jack-knifed near Yale.)
I have sat alongside the Vancouver Giants’ bus driver, Derek Holloway, in the press box in Kamloops for years now and watched him, phone in hand, check regularly — like every 10 minutes — for highway conditions. He’s a regular on the DriveBC website where highway cameras keep him up to date.
Earlier this season, Holloway told me that road conditions on a trek from Prince George to Calgary were the worst that he had encountered. Ever.
On Thursday night, with the Giants scheduled to head for Calgary on Saturday, he already was watching forecasts and checking highway conditions.
“I think our trip to Calgary could be nasty,” he told me.
In this part of the world, there are all kinds of stories of trips delayed and close calls. A number of years ago, the Giants didn’t make it home, choosing to spend a night in Merritt. One night in February 2011, the Everett Silvertips’ bus ended up in a snowbank on the  Coq after the driver took evasive action to avoid a multi-vehicle collision.
I mention all of this because today is the 30th anniversary of the crash involving the Broncos’ bus, an accident that took four young men from us.
Yes, as hard as it is to believe, it has been 30 years since the bus carrying the Swift Current Broncos to Regina for a game with the Pats crashed and took the lives of forwards Trent Kresse, Scott Kruger, Chris Mantyka and Brent Ruff.
Those players will be remembered today with the unveiling of a permanent monument just east of Swift Current.
From a Broncos’ news release:
“Led by Bill Lee, a close friend of the Kruger family, a monument unveiling will take place Friday morning at the site of the crash. Families, survivors, alumni, team, staff and board members will be granted the first opportunity to view the monument privately, followed by viewing opportunities for the general public and media directly afterwards at noon.”
Nathan Wiebe, the Broncos’ chaplain, will lead observers in prayer, followed by a short program.
A reception for families and alumni is scheduled for 5:30 p.m., before the Broncos play host to the Saskatoon Blades. A special Four Bronco remembrance presentation will begin at 7 p.m.
It is wonderful to see that a monument finally is to be put in place. Hopefully, the area will end up being a road-side park where travellers will be able to stop and find a quiet moment or two.
In the meantime, a lot of folks will spend today thinking of the four young men who no longer are with us. There also will be thoughts for the survivors, men like Sheldon Kennedy, Peter Soberlak, Bob Wilkie, Kurt Lackten . . .
I also will be thinking about Gordie Hahn, the trainer who was so tortured because he wasn’t with his boys that day, Doug Leavins, who was filling in for Hahn, and Dave Archibald, the bus driver that fateful day.
Thirty years . . . it seems like only yesterday.
Todd McLellan, the head coach of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, held his morning pre-game media availability, as usual, on Thursday. This one, however, was a bit different. A former general manager and head coach of the Swift Current Broncos, McLellan took time to remind the gathered media that Friday, Dec. 30, is an important day in the history of Swift Current, the Broncos and, in fact, all of hockey. Kurt Leavins, an Edmonton writer, was in attendance and took time to remember. If the last name sounds familiar, it should be. His brother, Doug, was filling in as the Broncos' trainer with Grod Hahn away with a midget team that was playing a touring Russian side. But that isn’t what Kurt’s piece is about; it’s about much more than that, and it’s right here.
Innes Mackie has been around the WHL since, well, almost since Day 1. The league was born for the 1966-67 season; he played for the Edmonton Oil Kings from 1971-72. Today, he’s the Tri-City Americans’ trainer and equipment manager. On Wednesday, when the Americans met the Winterhawks in Portland, Mackie worked his 3,000th game. It was only fitting that it should happen in Portland, because Mackie was part of the Winterhawks organization for 33 years. . . . Annie Fowler of the Tri-City Herald has more right here.
F Brett Howden’s contract with the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning is valued at US$2,775,000 over three years, according to Howden, who has 17 goals in 22 games with the Moose Jaw Warriors this season, was the 27th overall selection in the NHL’s 2016 draft. . . . The contract calls for an NHL salary of $925,000 each season, with annual signing bonuses of $92,500. The AHL salary would be $70,000 each season.
Carl Thoma is a hockey player who, by his best guess, plays about 350 games in a good season. Darren Zary of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix writes that Thoma, who is 64 years of age, “never leaves home without his skateguards and his mouth guard.” . . . Thoma also is the father of Saskatoon Blades assistant coach Bryce Thoma. . . . Zary’s story is right here.

If you don’t know anything about Myles Mattila, do yourself a favour and Google him. He’s a young man who plays for the Prince George-based Cariboo Cougars of the B.C. Major Midget Hockey League. But he’s more than that. He has taken it upon himself to help raise mental health awareness and with the support of the Cougars is doing tremendous work.


No Games Scheduled.

FRIDAY’S GAMES (all times local):

Moose Jaw at Brandon, 7:30 p.m.
Edmonton at Calgary, 7 p.m.
Prince George at Everett, 7:35 p.m.
Victoria at Kelowna, 7:05 p.m.
Lethbridge at Medicine Hat, 7:30 p.m.
Regina at Prince Albert, 7 p.m.
Kootenay at Red Deer, 7 p.m.
Portland vs. Seattle, at Kent, Wash., 7:35 p.m.
Tri-City at Spokane, 7:05 p.m.
Saskatoon at Swift Current, 7 p.m.
Kamloops vs. Vancouver, at Langley, B.C., 7:30 p.m.

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