Hockey season has been over for a while, but for one night in July it was again the prime focus at the Civic Centre.
North Battleford was the host of the Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame induction dinner, an event held on Saturday night that recognized the best in Saskatchewan hockey. Making the evening particularly special was the connection of many of those inductees to the Battlefords and the surrounding area.
Nine new inductees were celebrated: three players, two builders, one official, two teams and one grassroots organization.
In the players category, four-time Stanley Cup winner Bob Bourne was inducted into the hall. The Netherhill native played three seasons with the Saskatoon Blades and had been drafted by the Houston Astros before ultimately choosing a hockey career. He spent 14 seasons in the NHL including with the cup-winning teams of the New York Islanders in the early 1980s.
Through it all, he never forgot where he came from.
“When I got to New York, I was a scared little kid out of Saskatchewan, nervous as can be,” said Bourne.
Bourne attributes his success to the values he learned from home.
“The biggest thing for us as Saskatchewanites is, I grew up on a farm. And you learn how to work on a farm – and if you didn’t work you don’t eat. So you learn the work ethic, and the other thing, too, is you learn to share. I had five brothers and sisters, and you become a team player. And that really transformed into what I was as a hockey player, because I was a team player and I worked hard.”
Bourne was happy about being back home in Saskatchewan for the Hall of Fame dinner. It was a chance for him to meet many familiar faces, some of whom he hadn’t seen for many years.
“As a kid you never ever think of being in any hall of fame,” said Bourne. “I was very lucky. I had some God-given talent and worked my way up, and it became a passion for me.”
Fiona Smith-Bell started playing hockey as a young girl growing up in Edam, Saskatchewan, where she played countless hours on the ice.
She went on to a successful career in women’s hockey, highlighted by her play on Canada’s national women’s team, which won two World Championships and also a trip to the Olympics in 1998.
“It truly is an incredible honor, but to me it’s not just the individual award I’m being honoured with,” said Smith-Bell.
“It goes back to the grassroots level where I had coaches and many players who were all part of this journey for me. It’s pretty special having my family here and seeing so many familiar faces here tonight.”
She is now among the growing number of pioneering female hockey players who are now being inducted into hockey halls of fame.
“It’s not something you envision growing up,” Smith-Bell said of the honour. “What I envisioned was winning that Stanley Cup and hoisting it above my head.”
While she is proud of her accomplishments in the women’s game, “I really truly don’t believe I’m a pioneer,” said Smith-Bell. She said other women “paved the way for us, and women’s hockey has grown by leaps and bounds.”
Edward “Eddie” Litzenberger was remembered for his long NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Born in Neudorf, Litzenberger played minor hockey in Weyburn, and had an outstanding career in junior ranks with the Regina Pats.
He captained the Blackhawks for two seasons and after winning the cup with them in 1961, he was traded to the Leafs where he won three more Stanley Cups in a row. Litzenberger, who died in 2010, scored 183 goals and 25 assists in 658 NHL games.
In the builders category, the late Stan Dunn was honored for his involvement in developing countless hockey players over five decades.
He was a player/coach in Redvers, Lloydminster and Lashburn, was involved in the Weyburn Red Wings which he helped guide into the SJHL ranks. He also was instrumental as coach and general manager for several seasons with the Swift Current Broncos, first with their WHL franchise and then with the SJHL Broncos after the WHL team moved to Lethbridge.
Dunn was also coach and general manager of the Battlefords Barons from 1979-83 and coached the midget AAA North Stars until 1992.
Members of Dunn’s family were on hand to receive Dunn’s induction into the Hall of Fame.
“It’s the culmination of a lot of years of being associated with a hell of a lot of nice people,” was the reaction of Graham Tuer, who was also inducted in the builders category.
Tuer’s own involvement in hockey spans over five decades as a volunteer, administrator, general manager and scout. He was general manager of the Air Canada Cup-winning Regina Pat Canadians, was assistant GM and scout with the Regina Pats, was a scout with the Kelowna Rockets and also scouted for NHL Central Scouting. Previously, he also was given an Award of Merit by Hockey Canada.
Tuer credits his longevity in the game of hockey to “l-u-c-k. Luck.” He also credits this range of opportunities to an attitude where you “never say no to any opportunity you have.”
“God’s been on my side all the way along the line, because I’ve been very fortunate to have been able to work at every level from bantam all the way through,” Tuer said. “I couldn’t ask for much more and I’ve been treated wonderfully at every level I’ve been at.”
In the category of officials, Battleford native Ken Wheler was inducted into the Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame for his years of work as a referee, including time in the WHL and in the pro ranks, including the NHL.
It was particularly rewarding for Wheler to be inducted in his home community. His family was on hand for the induction in an arena he had worked many games in.
While hockey Halls of Fame are usually associated with athletes, Wheler noted there was an athletic component to his work.
“Because of the speed of the game you have to be able to keep pace with it, so I think of it as a bit of an accomplishment in that area as well.”
But “it’s different, and the main focus for officials is to protect the safety and integrity of the game and I think that the training and expertise is invaluable to do that so the players can play in a fair and safe environment.”
It is a career that he acknowledges is a tough one, with “a lot of challenges and … with a lot of conflict resolution,” he said. He recalled times in the WHL when an irate Ernie “Punch” McLean would “throw a garbage can on the ice a couple of times” over calls he made. But those moments are outweighed by the rewards from being involved in the game.
“Just the opportunity to be on the ice and be part of this great game and have the best seat in the house is pretty rewarding.”
In the team category, members of the 1983-84 Wilkie Outlaws were on hand to accept their induction into the Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame. The team won the Senior “B” title in Saskatchewan that year and had also gone unbeaten in 18 games over the course of the season.
That team included 17 players who were from the Wilkie area.
Members of the Outlaws were on hand to accept their induction into the Hall of Fame.
Another senior franchise from the Northwest region was honoured, and that was the 2000-01 Lloydminster Border Kings. The Kings won the Allan Cup over Petrolia Squires 7-2. The team won the cup in spite of some challenging circumstances: they didn’t have a league to play in. Their regular season consisted of exhibition games after their rivals departed the Wild Goose Hockey League.
Despite that, they went on a playoff tear and captured the national title. Of their cup-winning roster, 18 of the players were born in Saskatchewan.
Members of the 2001 champion Border Kings were on hand to accept their induction to the Sask. Hockey Hall of Fame.
Finally, in the grassroots category, the Northwest Hockey Development Association was inducted. The group has been active in the Battlefords since 1982 in support of the development of hockey in the local area. Their volunteer work includes running the concessions and assisting with the various improvement projects with the arena, including improvements to the Civic Centre and the score clock.
So many NHDA volunteers were on hand for the induction ceremony that the stage almost could not hold them all. North Stars president Troy Slywka and SJHL president Bill Chow were on hand to make the presentation of their induction into the Sask. Hockey Hall of Fame.
The induction class of 2017 will now be permanently featured at the Sask. Hockey Hall of Fame located at the Credit Union iPlex in Swift Current.
In all, it had been a great full day of activities for the event, which rotates among a number of Saskatchewan communities.
The Battlefords North Stars hosted this year in partnership with the Saskatchewan Hockey Association.
The day began with a pancake breakfast at the Civic Centre and continued with an outdoor road-hockey tournament outdoors during the afternoon.
TSN’s Darren Dreger was MC for the main event, the banquet, in the evening, which include a live and silent auction component.
The proceeds from the banquet are split between the Hall of Fame and the local organization, the Battlefords North Stars.