On Saturday, October 26th, over 33,000 hockey fans from across the prairies gathered in Regina’s Mosaic Stadium for the 2019 Tim Hortons Heritage Classic. This event facilitated the NHL's first-ever outdoor regular-season game to be hosted by a neutral site as well as the first-ever regular-season game to be hosted in Regina. It also marked the first regular-season game to be held in Saskatchewan since 1994. Given our even proximity to both of the opposing teams (Winnipeg and Calgary), we seemed like a logical middle-ground for the match. That said, Regina is by far the smallest community to host this mammoth event, with under half the population of any of its predecessors. If we were going to pull this off, it wouldn’t be without the hard work and dedication of our local hockey community. One thing that seems to be understood across the board is that hockey is deeply embedded in Saskatchewan's culture and (dare I say it?) heritage. This was commemorated tenfold through our passionate efforts and glowing results.
The Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation Association (SPRA) saw in this an opportunity for our local hockey devotees to learn from the best. On October 17th, they hosted an Ice Building workshop with Dan Craig and Derek King at Mosaic Stadium. Although this is the first time this has been done, the rationale seems to make perfect sense:... We're bringing in two of the industry's heavy-hitters to manufacture a hockey rink from scratch - why not have the individuals who do just this on a smaller scale in their respective communities lend a hand?
This workshop facilitated 24 Saskatchewan-based ice-markers from varying communities ranging from Weyburn to Carrot River. One participant even commuted from Cumberland House. The assembly of these two-dozen hockey enthusiasts and their two veteran mentors produced a palpable heir of passion capable of giving even a rookie like me a rush. Even without the vernacular, I was enamoured by Dan Craig's stories from the NHL "glory days" which included names even I recognized (namely Wayne Gretzky).
Dan is a native of Jasper, AB where he established his bond with the ice at a young age, working at his local rink in high school. That was the catalyst for a whirlwind career that landed him as the resident ice guru for the Edmonton Oilers during their '80's heyday (hence the Gretzky reference). Since the NHL's inclusion of the outdoor games in 2003, Dan has been the man on speed-dial garnering the title of VP of Facility Operations. Dan has been the head ice-maker for every Heritage Classic to date with the exception of 2016 (Winnipeg) when he had prior engagements with rinks in China.
The 2019 Heritage Classic was Dan's 28th major outdoor game. He was quick to note the difference in the local ice-making talent in the prairies in contrast to elsewhere. He stressed the importance of giving back to the community and maintaining the integrity of this often unrecognized art.
The quote Dan offered me is the same succinct motto that was scrolled in all-caps across Mosaic Boardroom whiteboard:
"Excellence Makes Tradition"
This is a proverb that Dan's former protege and right-hand on the Heritage Classic, Kam Kiland has always held close to his heart
Kam is a Saskatchewan local with three international Olympic Winter Games and numerous world championships under his belt. He initially met Dan in Torino, Italy which established a partnership that continues to revive throughout their respective careers. Kam’s path has lead him back to his family farm here in Kelvington where he works for the Horizon School Division and makes ice on a situational contract basis. When an opportunity of this scale arose in his stomping grounds, it goes without saying that he jumped at it.
The participants of this workshop were clearly engaged and eager to absorb any of the teachings that these acclaimed industry vets had to offer. There was a palpable community motive that paralleled Dan's "excellence makes tradition" mantra. Everyone wanted to bring professional-standard ice-making expertise to their community hockey rink and preserve the heritage of their craft. The SPRA made this a possibility and a success.
Less than ten days later I sat in the virtually sold-out Mosaic Stadium and while everyone was transfixed by the game and the spectacle I couldn't stop looking at the ice. This workshop and the devotion is displayed gave me a new appreciation for the true unsung MVPs of hockey- the ice-makers.
For more information on the SPRA go to:https://www.spra.sk.ca/