The sound of skates scraping over the ice accompanied by cheering will ring out through the Bower neighbourhood this weekend as the puck drops on another outdoor winter classic – Red Deer style.
Eight Midget A hockey teams will be decked out in jerseys of the California Golden Seals, Minnesota Northstars, Cleveland Barons, Winnipeg Jets, Colorado Rockies, Quebec Nordiques, Atlanta Flames and the Hartford Whalers.
“I’ve got some other options,” said Al Sim, one of the faces behind the scenes about the jersey selection for the 4th winter classic.
“I’ve got about two or three years planned and ready down the road.”
In years past players have taken home jerseys of the original six NHL teams, franchises from the first NHL expansion years and this year will be no different as the players pack up at the end of three days of hockey.
“The fun part for me is standing in the background and watching when they open that dressing room and they see all of their uniforms with their names on the back,” he said. “Every reaction of every kid is the same, we’ve got the best uniforms in the tournament.”
It’s a festival atmosphere in Bower as a small hockey city springs up almost overnight to host the teams which will include four from Red Deer and one each from Grande Prairie, Claresholm, Lloydminster and Kelowna.
The addition of a fourth Red Deer team is something Sim explains as the growth of hockey at the Midget A level which means another 24 kids are playing hockey when they could easily have dropped out a couple of years ago.
The tournament has evolved since the idea was discussed years ago and Sim got friends and business associates onboard to dig into their wallets to make this happen.
Sim credits the hockey passion within the community for keeping this alive along with the fact many of the supporters within the oil patch, huge contributors to the classic, have been around hockey most of their lives.
After the first OWC Sim said it was clear they all had the same vision for holding this event so between flat out donations and gifts in kind the organizers started seeing a profit being made which was quickly invested back into making sure this tournament continues.
“Now what we’re doing is we’re building our own infrastructure, we own our dressing rooms, we own the players and penalty boxes and now we’ve got them all heated,” he said.
The original thought for this weekend was to give players who likely are not going to play organized hockey something to look forward to during their final season but there are a few lucky ones who are experiencing their second or third winter classic and that has Sim smiling.
“These are the kids that typically played Atom B and Peewee B and Bantam B ,” he said. “I coached Midget A last year and we went on a road trip to Forestburg and rode a bus and there was like five or six kids that had never been on a bus for hockey.”
But even with all the financial support and lessons learned over the past three years there is one factor which will always remain out of the control of the organizing committee.
“The biggest struggle is just the weather,” he said.
The first year saw the opening night rained out and another year the weather was bone-chilling cold so to date nobody has figured out how to get Mother Nature onboard but the classic will keep moving forward and improving along the way.
The work on this little slice of hockey heaven is underway and now it’s up to Mother Nature to be a hockey fan and cooperate.