BY KALISHA MENDONSA
Members of the Ermineskin Nation are waiting to find out if their entry for the 2017 Kraft Hockeyville contest will make it into the top two spots or not.
The Ermineskin Nation Minor Hockey Association (Neyaskwyahk Hawks) plays out of the Neyaskwyahk Arena in Maskawacis.
The Arena was constructed over 20 years ago, and has been closed down in recent seasons due to needed repairs. This has been a devastating loss to the community’s minor hockey league – which consists of over 250 young hockey hopefuls.
“We have some social problems in our community, and once the kids see something positive, it really changes it for them. To get this NHL game here might be the only opportunity a lot of these kids have to ever see a live NHL game,” said Chief Randy Ermineskin.
“Most of us know we aren’t going to go on to play in the NHL, or even make it to junior hockey, but at least the kids could be inspired by those NHL players here. If we can upgrade our minor hockey system, it will allow them to dream for a little while.”
The Ermineskin Nation made it into the top 10 finalist category, securing them $25,000 in arena upgrades.
Unfortunately, the cost to repair the structural and engineering needs of the facility is footing a bill of nearly half a million dollars.
If the Ermineskin Nation were to be chosen for their community to be named ‘Hockeyville 2017’, it would mean an arena expansion that would allow for more seating, upgraded and re-located change rooms and for the structural components of the arena to be revived.
Chief Ermineskin noted that the Neyaskwyahk Arena was built more than 20 years ago, with many of the integral and structural pieces coming to the end of their life-span. He said in recent years, repairs have needed to be done and this has taken away from the local youth’s ability to play the game.
“Last year, we had to shut it down because we had pipes that burst and it became a safety factor. We were advised by the engineers that if we stayed open, we could have had some health issues, so had to shut it down. As they started to go through the whole arena, the engineers realized how much had to be changed out or upgraded,” the Chief said.
“For a lot of the materials in that facility, their expected life span is about 20 years, and they are starting to reach that limit. It’s going to cost us over half a million dollars to fix. At the same time, that took away from a lot of kids being able to play hockey.”
Chief Ermineskin said this is about much more than the needed money – it is about inspiring a generation of youth with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of viewing an NHL game in their home community.
He said it’s about being able to carry on the growth of this beloved community centre, and about lifting up the youth through their hockey community.
“For me, it’s all about the kids. They need to be inspired by something. All of us want that. Steve Wagner, our local guy who almost went on to play for the St. Louis Blues, was a big inspiration for me. Hockey was a big inspiration, too. It really changed my life and shaped who I am,” Ermineskin said.
Darren Simon, president of the local minor hockey association, said the youth in the community would benefit greatly from an upgraded arena.
He said it would give the community assurance that there could be two functioning rinks to serve the more than 250 kids who take part in the association.
“We have so many kids in our hockey association, and who knows how many more of them want to play. It would be great for them to all be able to play, especially in an upgraded rink,” Simon said.
“We had a practice recently at our arena and we talked to the kids about what it would be like to have an NHL game here. They thought it was so cool and we know it would inspire them. For a lot of them, it would be the only time they’d get to see an NHL game in person – it might be their only opportunity. They would be really inspired and excited.”
Steve Wagner is a former NHL prospect who was drafted to the St. Louis Blues. He is from Maskawacis, and got his own hockey start on the local rink.
“Hockey has been amazing in my life. It was a home away from home. You develop so many new friendships, camaraderies, rivalries, mentors – all of that. As a young guy getting into hockey, I remember my friends from school encouraging me to come out for street hockey, and eventually, I got better. I got better and better and had fun with it, and you’re able to use it as a motivator for not only sports, but for life-learning possibilities.”
He added that there are several gangs in the Maskawacis area, and the new arena would provide a safe, fun place for the youth to be involved, rather than the possibility of getting into any kind of trouble.
“This rink brings friends and a second family and I know that there are a lot of coaches out here who genuinely care about their teams,” he said, adding many of the local coaches dedicate time to picking up and dropping off players who may not otherwise be able to get to practices and tournaments.
“If we have an upgraded facility, it becomes one of many check-marks we can mark off our list in bringing up our entire hockey community.”
The first voting period has officially closed, and the Neyaskwyahk Hawks are waiting, with their community rallied behind them, to see if they will become a top-two finalist in the Kraft Hockeyville contest.
The final contest qualifiers will be announced on March 18th.