Prairie pride


Candy canes, eggnog and the World Juniors – few things are as closely
related to the holiday season as those three delightful traditions.

Sorry, Santa.

Although the IIHF World Junior Championship officially began in 1977, it
was a relatively unknown tournament until the late ‘80s. Thanks to the
infamous fight between Canada and the Soviet Union in 1987 and Canada’s
golden moment in Moscow a year later, hockey fans took notice.

The tournament became appointment viewing in 1991 thanks to Team Canada
winning its first World Juniors gold medal on home ice with a thriller in
Saskatoon, Sask.

John Slaney scored late in the third period as Eric Lindros and Canada beat
Pavel Bure and the Soviets 3-2 to capture a second consecutive Canadian
gold, and fifth overall.

The World Comes to Saskatchewan
headlined the tournament program and Saskatchewan did not disappoint. That
Canadian win forged a strong relationship between Hockey Canada and the
prairie province, especially in Saskatoon, where hockey remains king today.

The 14th annual Hockey Canada Foundation Gala & Golf is just the latest
event to touch down in Saskatoon; the prestigious event will celebrate
Canada’s hockey history, with added impact on Saskatchewan and the role it
has played in shaping the sport.

Team Canada alumnus Blair Davidson, chair of the host committee for the
Gala & Golf, says the 1991 World Juniors put Saskatchewan on the map as
a hockey province.

“What they did in ‘91 set the standard, in Canada anyways, for the World
Juniors,” says Davidson, who played with Team Canada at the then-unofficial
1975 world junior championship. “We set a number of records and it was a
top-notch tournament with some great players competing in it. Saskatchewan
raised the bar for the event.

“The people that ran that tournament, they developed a template that was
pushed to other cities and other countries hosting the tournament

It was no surprise that Saskatchewan again lit the lamp in 2010 hosting its
second World Juniors, one with another memorable, albeit heartbreaking
finish. Canada lost to the United States 6-5 in overtime, ending Canada’s
bid for a record-breaking sixth consecutive gold medal.

All good things must come to an end, they say. True enough for Canada’s
golden run, but the same cannot be said for the relationship between Hockey
Canada and Saskatchewan. That bond is as strong as ever.

With Hockey Canada’s largest annual fundraiser taking place in Saskatoon,
half of the net proceeds will remain in the province to support the growth
of the game.

The Saskatchewan Hockey Association (SHA) and Saskatoon Minor Hockey
Association (SMHA) will share the proceeds evenly, to support a plethora of
initiatives, including construction of Merlis Belsher Place at the
University of Saskatchewan, a new twin-pad, sledge-hockey-friendly arena
that will see the SMHA’s ice-time allocation increase by 1,500 hours each

Davidson said funds will also go to the Saskatchewan Hall of Fame and the
SMHA’s Memorial Cup legacy fund, but what he’s most excited about is the
SHA traveling to 10 northern Saskatchewan communities to host cross-ice
jamborees for Initiation Program-aged (5-and-6-year-old) boys and girls.

“We’ll be supporting the under-privileged kids in the places that really
don’t have access to hockey. In cities, it’s easy, you have access to
hockey. A quarter of the proceeds are going into the northern part of the
province, where they don’t have the same facilities we do. This will serve
as an introduction to hockey programs for a lot of kids and assist young
people getting into hockey with equipment, registration and travel.”

Saskatchewan has never been home to an NHL team – maybe someday – but the
province has produced some of the toughest NHL and international players
around, pros like Patrick Marleau, Ryan Getzlaf and Scott Hartnell, to name
a few. There are 34 active NHLers from Saskatchewan and 80 Saskatchewan
natives have played for Team Canada over the last 10 years, including eight
from Saskatoon.

Hayley Wickenheiser – heard of her? The queen of women’s hockey is from
Shaunavon, Sask.

Davidson said producing superstar players is always nice, but it isn’t
something to rely on. Instead he wants to spread hockey to as many people
as possible and grow the game as much as possible.

“I’m hoping the legacy from this gala is more young people playing hockey,
more under-privileged kids having access to the game and developing that
love for the game so many of us feel. We may create the next Wayne Gretzky,
who knows, but if not, we’re creating fans of the game and it’s the fans
that make the game. A game we love in this province.”

To give the event a truly Saskatchewan feel, Saskatoon’s own Mike Babcock,
head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Edmonton Oilers bench boss Todd
McLellan, a Melville, Sask., native, will serve as honorary co-chairs.

“It’s a big event and we’re very excited,” boasts Davidson. “It’s going to
be a great event and it will leave a great legacy. It’s going to be the
Academy Awards of Hockey Canada.”

Saskatchewan has proven it can roll out the red carpet like few others.

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