Ten Colas Group hockey teams from across northwestern Canada and Alaska took over a frigid Fort St. John this week to compete in the 2013 Colas Cup hockey tournament at the Pomeroy Sport Centre.
For the first time Fort St. John got the opportunity to be the host city of the event from Monday, Jan. 28 to Thursday the 31st, housing and entertaining 200 hockey players who work in the road-related industry.
Tournament coordinator Tim Rankin has been planning the tournament for over a year, but despite some bumps in the road, said it was worth it.
“The guys said they had a great time, everything was good,” Rankin said from the Pomeroy Sport Centre on Thursday. “Other than it being minus-50, only the guys from Alaska were okay with that.”
“There were a few little hiccups but something this size, nothing’s perfect. It could’ve been a lot worse, believe me,” he added. “There were no major injuries, a ref got hurt but he’s fine though, it all went well.”
To give back to the community, participants donated $1,000 to the Fort St. John Minor Hockey Association and presented a sizable cheque to KidSport during Wednesday’s banquet.
“Minor hockey generously gave us this ice time so we turned around and donated $1,000 back to them for helping us,” Rankin explained. “Some of the people involved in minor hockey or KidSport helped us keep time, it was a good event.”
“They were very shocked at the amount that was raised and so was I. For the employees to donate over $13,000 of their own money to a charity, that’s amazing.”
Over the four days, the Colas Group players held meetings, played hockey, ate dinners, met local politicians and were even given an entertaining and informative speech by Hockey Night in Canada play-by-play announcer and former Fort St. John resident Jim Hughson on Wednesday night.
Hughson, who was born and raised here, hadn’t been back in years and jumped at the opportunity to reminisce about his childhood.
“The Colas Cup people invited me some time ago to come up here and speak at their banquet,” Hughson said rinkside on Wednesday. “It’s hockey and that’s what I do. Because it was here in particular I accepted the invitation right away because it’s been a lot of years since I’ve been up here. I wanted to not only see the place but see some old friends and have a few remember-whens and hang around a bunch of guys and watch hockey. It’s been a good couple of days.”
Hughson hung around the Pomeroy Sport Centre all of Wednesday for day two of the tournament, mingling with players and organizers and taking in the size of the Olympic-sized recreational facility that has since replaced an outdoor rink where Hughson skated as a kid.
“This is a fantastic facility. I heard some people complaining about the price of it, but you always hear that. For a town like this to have a recreational facility like this, I think it’s spectacular,” he said. “It’s perfect. Little wonder there have been so many good competitors coming out of Fort St. John because it always had facilities and this will only make it better.”
“In a town like this you want to be able to host provincial championships in minor hockey and regional figure skating and speed skating championships,” he added. “When you have facilities like this you can bring people here and have no trouble putting them on. It’s really important for communities to develop places like this.”
On Wednesday night at the Colas Cup banquet at the Pomeroy Inn and Suites, Hughson spoke for an hour, talking about his life growing up in Fort St. John, how this city led him to become a play-by-play announcer and how he thinks this NHL season will pan out.
Team by team, Hughson made predictions about who will go far and who won’t, causing some cheering and booing as hockey fans from all areas chirped at each other and laughed along with Hughson’s jabs.
“He was hilarious and absolutely amazing,” Rankin said. “He was exactly what I thought he’d be. It’s good to have someone who was born and raised here to speak about the town and talk to the guys. He spent the whole day at the arena and hung out with the guys [Wednesday] night after the banquet and watched some hockey.”
Rankin dropped Hughson off at the airport Thursday morning as the announcer had to fly back to Toronto to prepare for Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada broadcast.
Although it was a short visit “home,” Hughson said he had a great time going over his past and seeing how Fort St. John has grown in his absence. He mentioned how “main street” has changed, with only the Condill Hotel and Lido Theatre staying the same since he left. Hughson also planned on visiting his old house on 104 Avenue.
“It’s interesting,” he said. “I’ve been away from here longer than I ever lived here and it’s changed so much. I drove in from the airport and couldn’t get my bearings, I didn’t know where I was. It’s changed so much.”
“I spent my formative years here… I wouldn’t trade growing up here for anything. It’s just really cold here. It was minus-40 when I pulled in [Tuesday] night, but as a kid the winters used to have a lot more snow and longer cold snaps. Didn’t stop us from going outside and playing hockey though.”
The Colas Cup playoffs started bright and early on Thursday, and the final came down to SG Calgary and NWT Construction. SG, who went undefeated at the tournament, won the game with a decisive 3-0 victory over NWT to win the coveted Colas Cup.
Soon the parking lots around the Pomeroy emptied out of their many coach buses and things returned to normal.
“It’s been all over western Canada,” Rankin said about the tournament. “It’s been in Alaska, so it’s our first time. I don’t know if or when we’ll get it again.”
“It was definitely a boost to Fort St. John with the amount of money the guys spent in town,” he added laughing.