Hockeytopia

Penticton has a rich hockey history, highlighted by the 1955 World Champion Vees that, earlier this month, celebrated 60 years since beating Russia for the World title. Can you image the team travelling to Russia and representing Canada was from little old Penticton? Well it was, and hockey is what I wanted to talk about and celebrate.

We have one of the strongest junior hockey programs in the country. When I say strongest I'm not just talking about the amount of wins or fan support, but the number of players leaving with scholarships to U.S. colleges surpasses all other teams in the league. Coach and General Manager Fred Harbinson always puts together a great product on the ice. The Vees recently put more emphasis on off-ice business operations and community engagement. It is that community engagement that prompted Peter Brothers to sponsor free tickets for kids to Vees games; and this has provided a better atmosphere in the building. Wicked Wednesdays had significant raffle prizes, raising funds to support school breakfast programs, and offered affordable entertainment at the South Okanagan Events Centre, with cheap beer too.

Before the Vees, we had the Panthers and Penticton Knights. For a short period of time, we had a men's senior hockey team called the Silver Bullets, and we've had a junior B team as well. Most recently, Penticton has enjoyed seeing the Okanagan Hockey School grow from being singular summer program to a multi-city hockey training powerhouse, and now they started a sport academy program. The Okanagan Hockey Academy had 7 teams competing in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League, which recently had their championship series hosted in Penticton. We had 33 teams of over 800 players and coaching staff, plus scouts, family and friends visiting Penticton in the shoulder season.

Every summer, the BC Hockey Hall of Fame inducts 4-5 hockey heroes during their awards dinner. The Hall of Fame is inside the South Okanagan Events Centre and showcases the many B.C. talents who contributed to hockey. It is humbling to see how many inductees are from Penticton or had roots or playing history here. I'm sure it won't be long before they induct Penticton's own Duncan Keith for winning Olympic gold, NHL defencemen of the year, and the Stanley Cup all in one season.

We have played host to the World Junior A Challenge and have become the annual home of the Vancouver Canucks Young Stars Classic. It is awesome to have four Canadian NHL teams set up shop in Penticton for a week with their talented rookies and rising stars. The hockey is fast, intense and exciting to watch as each player battles for a position with their NHL team. We also have yet another chance to see or rub elbows with hockey heroes of the past who are now coaches, management or scouts as they mingle throughout the rink and community.

This week, the BC Hockey Midget Female championships are being hosted in Penticton. We are lucky to have 4 sheets of ice including the iconic Memorial Arena, so we can host these types of tournaments.

Minor hockey is where it all starts and 99.9% of the players will never play in the NHL, but the focus shouldn't be about making it big. Hockey teaches kids life lessons, teamwork, the value and reward of hard work. In hockey and in life, we will win some and lose some – but it is how we graciously face defeat, and the steps we take to reduce that from repeating, that determines our character.


Top photo: A minor hockey player is eager to get on the ice. Credit: www.stinkylockers.com

Bottom photo: Murray Maxwell embodies the hockey spirit in Penticton. Credit: www.stinkylockers.com