By Tim Kalinowski
They came out in their dozens to the Gull Lake Rec Centre. Kids and families from town as well as several neighbouring communities. They brought their skates, their love of hockey and their sense of fun and play. Laughter echoed throughout the rink as a mass of children skated in every direction racing and wrestling, gathering in tight knots around their favourite Broncos players. Kids holding up autograph books hopefully, excitement on their faces, as proud parents yelled encouragement from the benches or snapped pictures to post to distant relatives or friends on Facebook.
At Gull Lake’s Skate with the Broncos event southwest Saskatchewan’s hockey team brought happiness to young fans and set young hearts aflame with hero worship on Monday, January 6. And for major event sponsor Kate Winquist of Winquist Ventures Ltd. that’s what it was all about.
“Today I am out here as a Mom as much as I am sponsor,” said Winquist, who ventured out onto the ice in her sneakers to be with her daughter on this special day. “To see the smile on my daughter Jaidyn’s face is the best thing. She’s excited about this. She’s been talking about it for weeks. This is what memories are made of for kids.”
Broncos Assistant GM of Business Operations Diane Sletten felt the exact same way.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said Sletten, sitting comfortably watching kids whiz by from behind the end-board glass with a contented smile on her face. “You’ve got a good number of people coming out, and it’s just kind of a way to give back to our fans. It’s good to be here and it’s really nice to see the interaction between the kids and players. And it’s great for our players to see the fans, and them wanting the autographs. It’s an encouragement for them too.”
Broncos goalie Eetu Laurikainen, who has been a big part of the Broncos’ success on the ice this year, skated around with a few kids hanging onto his arms. The affable Fin said he enjoyed meeting his smallest fans in Gull Lake.
“It is so nice to be here today,” said Laurikainen in his broken English. “I love the people here. They all encouraging me.”
Broncos monster defenseman Brett Lernout towered over kids and parents too on the ice, but that didn’t stop his enthusiastic young fans from asking for his autograph anyway. The roguish grin on his face showed that even the biggest, scariest guy is no match for an adorable little girl in braces.
“It’s great to come and skate with the kids and it’s good to come out to the community like this and have some fun,” said a relaxed and laid-back Lernout. “I used to look up to older junior hockey players. I was these kids once.”
Inside the Community Hall a beef-on-a-bun dinner was simmering, and in the foyer eager crowds gathered at the gift basket tables and the 50/50 to enter their names in the draws paid for, in part, by major event sponsor Southern Pressure Testers. Locally owned Condor also brought in some free Broncos water bottles much to the delight of the kids.
The funds raised through the draws and dinner went to support Gull Lake’s Kreative Kidz Early Learning Centre as it seeks to expand in the community in 2014. Kreative Kidz director Rebecca Anderson was impressed that Skate with the Broncos not only brought some fun to town, but it also helped support such an important institution in the growing community.
“I think our board really likes this event because it is family friendly, and we’re all about the kids,” said Anderson between conversations with interested parents thinking about signing their kids up for the E.L.C. “So this was something that was going to have a real kid focus. We’re still fairly new to the community so we’re trying to get the word out what we are and what we’re trying to do.”
Back on the ice, hockey dad Daryl Harvey watched over his little ones as they eagerly pressed in for autographs with Broncos players.
“It’s good for the kids to learn and see what is going on,” said Harvey, thinking back to similar experiences in his youth. “Seeing these Broncos players when you were a kid motivated you. You thought maybe someday I wouldn’t mind playing at that level.”
Not far away young Peyton Stenson skated around laughing with her friends. Stenson is rising young hockey star in Gull Lake. She had her eye out for one particular player last Monday.
“I really wanted to get number 12’s (Jay Merkley’s) autograph because that’s my favourite number in hockey,” confided Stenson.
But Stenson’s knowledgeable young hockey eye took in more than just a bit of hero worship. She watched the Broncos’ drills before the public skate and noticed something very important.
“I was watching them do their drills when they were practicing, watching how they passed dead on. It’s exciting to watch them and learn how they do that.”
All in all Gull Lake couldn’t have asked for a better day for Skate with the Broncos. There’s no doubt the Broncos won over some new young fans. And solidified their place as southwest Saskatchewan’s hockey team.
PHOTO BY DEVIN BECK
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