Two years ago, Fort Nelson didn’t even have a senior hockey team, but this week they’re hosting teams from around the province in the Coy Cup Senior Men’s AA provincial hockey championships.
According to organizers, putting on the event has lifted the town’s spirits, while the Chamber of Commerce is hoping it will bring an influx of much needed cash.
Barney Streeper, who is on the Coy Cup executive committee and a player for the Fort Nelson Yeti, said the town is buzzing.
“To be able to bring this quality of hockey to an area like this, I mean it’s second to none,” he said. “This is going to be some of the best hockey our community has ever seen played in our rink.”
It wasn’t long ago that this event would have been unheard of in Fort Nelson.
“Not even two years ago we didn’t even have a team, we had nothing,” said Streeper, who was part of a push to form the Fort Nelson Yeti.
He said it was a tough slog at first. They were denied entrance into the North Peace Hockey League, and the idea was met with a lot of negativity in town. No one thought it would happen. He said they pushed forward anyways.
“Fast forward to today, we have 23 sponsors on board this year, 100 volunteers,” said Streeper. “We now have guys that used to play competitive hockey 10 years ago that never thought they would play again, they are now coming out and they want to be part of it.”
He said the past few days the energy in town has been up. He sees people at the sports store, going grocery shopping or at the bank. “Everybody recognizes you and says, ‘Good luck tonight, see you at the game!’”
That’s especially important considering the slump Fort Nelson has been in recently. “Economically right now, we’re in a bit of a struggle up north, given with what’s going on with commodity prices and the LNG promises and all that talk not quite having taken off yet,” said Streeper.
“Bringing this event to town has kind of turned the mood a little bit. People are excited. It’s allowing them to take their minds off some of those things and let them focus on more of a family atmosphere, and there’s a bit of a buzz.”
Local businesses are hoping to take advantage of that buzz. Hotels and restaurants are busier than usual. Some of the merchants got together and made up a coupon book, offering discounts to the players who are coming up to compete.
“It gives the players a little bit of a benefit as well as hopefully encouraging them to access some of our local service providers and businesses,” said Bev Vandersteen, executive director of the Fort Nelson Chamber of Commerce.
Together with the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality, the chamber is offering each player a “Fort Nelson Five Dollar Bill” for them to redeem at any local business that’s willing to participate.
“When a business accepts that Fort Nelson five, they just bring that back to me and I give them a real five,” said Vancersteen. “It’s win-win for the business, and our hope is that people get out and do some shopping.” She said that if it works as a promotional tool, they might consider doing it for other events in town.
Streeper said it is more than just the approximately 80 players that will be in town. Many of the Yeti’s family are coming up other parts of the province to watch their fathers, sons, and grandsons compete.
“We’re seeing grandparents, cousins, lots of them not just associated with the out-of-town teams, but the extended families associated with our team are bringing a large influx of people into the area as well,” he said. Then there’s support staff, coaches and referees as well.
“The saying around here is that the highway only goes one way,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to bring some people this way.”