Although he’s not there every single day of the week, Neil Gamble might be at the North Battleford Civic Centre more than anyone in the area.
“With all of the teams that I play music for and the updating of the stat board that I do for the Battlefords North Stars, it starts to feel like I’m here every day of the week,” Gamble laughed.
“I end up getting in conversations on a regular basis with people, especially with people who come in from out of town, and I’m always happy to chat with them.”
From his vantage point in the southeast corner of the rink, Gamble has been playing songs at North Stars games since 1992 and has added a variety of events along the way.
“When I started out it was just the North Stars and after a few years I got to do the music for Battlefords Midget AAA Stars team,” Gamble said. “Within the last 10 years, it’s really started to pick up, especially when senior hockey came back to the area as I did the music at first for the Battleford Beaver Blues before I joined up with the Meota Combines.
“In addition those teams, I also do the music for the Midget AA Barons, Midget A Barons, the Bantam AA Barons, the Pee Wee AA Barons, two teams in the bantam STEP league, the Skate Battlefords year-end carnival and the Kinsmen Rodeo. All of that keeps me pretty busy for a few months.”
A connection through a friend that Gamble worked with at the former Gainers meat packing facility led to getting the job playing music for the North Stars 25 years ago, though the amount of gear he brought to the rink in the early days was dramatically different from what he has now.
“When I started I was bringing in cassettes and compact discs in a case that would be similar to what most people use to carry their laptops around now,” Gamble said. “It was a lot of mixes of songs that I had recorded from stuff that I already had. A lot of the cassettes back then had stuff that I was playing in my own vehicle, so I just brought it in the rink to use here as well.
“Eventually I moved everything on to the CDs until I got a mini-disc player, which was recordable so that made things a lot easier. Then eventually I set everything up with the laptop that I use today.”
While Gamble’s not completely sure of the total number of songs that are on his hard drive, it’s very rare that he repeats a track during the course of a night.
“My favourite genre of music is hard rock but my tastes are all over the place, so I can keep myself pretty happy with what I’m playing,” Gamble said. “It’s a little bit of trial and error to make sure I don’t repeat a band or anything like that, but the music software that I use helps me a lot as it marks if I’ve played the song already. It’s pretty similar to what most radio stations have and that helps me out a lot.
“The amount of songs I play also depends on what happens during the course of the game. If it’s a fast-paced game, I don’t have to play a lot of songs, but that changes if there’s a lot of stoppages over the course of a night.”
While the technology has changed, the room that he’s in has stayed the same ever since he started working at the rink.
“I’m kind of maxed out in there as I’d have to start running things underneath the bleachers,” Gamble said. “I’ve thought about expanding it to put in a TV and a couch to relax in between games, but I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon.
“It’s a pretty good place to watch a game from, though, except for when the game moves down into the far corner and I have to kind of tilt my head a little bit to see what’s going on.”
Among Gamble’s favourite memories of working in the Civic Centre were the two Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League championship runs that his hometown North Stars went on in 2000 and 2017.
“We had a good stretch here during the middle of the 1990s with teams that were really competitive, but they just couldn’t get that title,” Gamble said. “To see them win twice has been a lot of fun to watch, plus the way that they’ve played over the last couple of years has made it a really good group to see play on a nightly basis.
“Another highlight has been when we’ve had some teams from Europe come here for exhibitions. Before he played in the NHL, Filip Forsberg played here for Sweden and that was a pretty memorable night.”
Although playing music at hockey games is his main line of work at the Civic Centre, Gamble says one of his favourite events of the year comes each spring during Kinsmen Indoor Rodeo.
“You get to interact with the rodeo announcer, the rodeo clown and the audience a lot more than you do for other events,” Gamble said. “It makes for a pretty