It was a trip down memory lane Saturday night at the Castlegar Recreation Complex as a dozen Selkirk College Saints hockey alumni from the 1970s gathered to swap stories and remember the old days.
With a crucial BCIHL match-up between the Saints and the Simon Fraser University Clan acting as the backdrop, the team put together the second annual Alumni Night to pay tribute to those who helped plant the current team’s roots.
It was Alumni Night at the Castlegar Recreation Complex on Saturday night.
“I’m absolutely delighted to see it come back and be as strong as it is right now because it was a great focal point back in the early 1970s,” said Mal Stelck, the man who helped bring prominence to the hockey program more than 40 years ago.
Alumni, Selkirk College administration and current team staff gathered in a meeting room for a social mixer prior to puck drop. Amid displays of old team photos, newspaper clippings, trophies and assorted memorabilia; those gathered shared laughs about their early hockey days.
A Selkirk Athletics Legend
Stelck arrived to Selkirk College in 1971 with a mandate to build a solid recreation program and create a phys ed university transfer program. Just a year prior, Stelck had completed his education at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. He was teaching phys ed and coaching junior hockey when he made the move to the mountains.
“When I had the opportunity to come to the college and start a new program it was really exciting,” said Stelck.
Mal Stelck (middle) took care of the ceremonial puck drop duties on Saturday night.
On Stelck’s list of tasks was to take the Saints hockey program to the next level. Working off the framework put in place by Jimmy Anderson, Stelck would coach the Selkirk hockey team for the next five seasons and help college hockey in British Columbia flourish.
When Stelck arrived, the Saints were playing in the Pacific Intercollegiate Hockey League with the likes of the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and Gonzaga University. The next season Stelck helped spur the creation of a new conference that included Vancouver Community College, Douglas College (New Westminster), Caribou College (Kamloops), Okanagan Community College (Kelowna) and the College of New Caledonia (Prince George).
“I think it’s important to have a hockey team because it’s an opportunity to enhance the social life at the college,” said Stelck. “Having the students become an integral part of what is going on at the college is vital… it gives the students and staff something to rally around.
“These players are good spokespeople and representatives for this college when they travel to other communities. It also gives the players the chance to get involved more in their community and teaches them important lessons.”
Stelck would end up working at Selkirk College for 25 years. He was instrumental in getting the Castlegar gymnasium facility built, became the principal of the Castlegar Campus and finished as the Vice President of Education. He left the West Kootenay in 1996 and capped off his working career as an administrator at BCIT for five years. The Mal Stelck Leadership Award is handed out every year to a Selkirk College student in honour of his achievements over the 25 years.
The Last Great Run of the ‘70s
Geoff Yule graduated from Castlegar’s Stanley Humphries High School in 1977. As a member of the inaugural Castlegar Rebels Junior B team, Yule joined the Saints for the 1977-78 season.
“It was a nice transition,” Yule said. “Getting to play hockey after junior in your home community was a great opportunity.”
By this stage of the 1970s, budget cuts were taking their toll on college hockey programs across the province. Selkirk College stayed strong and benefitted from the coaching of Ernie Gare Sr., one of the most celebrated athletic minds in West Kootenay sports history.
Yule (left) enjoying the pre-game social event at the Castlegar Recreation Complex.
“I had a lot of great coaches growing up, but Ernie was amazing,” said Yule. “I learned a lot from him, he was so passionate about hockey. You couldn’t help but to eat, sleep and breathe hockey when you were around him. He motivated people to be good individuals, not just good hockey players.”
In Yule’s 1977-78 season the Saints lost in the Western Canadian Championship to Red Deer College, missing a shot at the Canadian championship by one goal.
Yule took university transfer courses while at Selkirk, which helped propel him to a chartered accounting career that has taken him around the world. Having returned to his hometown 20 years ago, the 55-year-old credits Selkirk College with a great start.
“Selkirk College is just such an important part of this community,” he said. “When you finish high school and don’t really know what you are going to do, it costs a lot of money to explore that in the bigger cities. Getting to go to Selkirk College is a great bridging opportunity. They have great variety of programs and courses, it gives you that chance to figure it out and polish before you spend the big bucks to move on.”
An Important Piece of Saints Nation
Both Stelck and Yule were pleased to be part of Alumni Night. After the social event, players were escorted onto the ice surface for a pre-game ceremony. All 12 were introduced and enjoyed a warm greeting from the 600-plus fans in attendance. Stelck took care of the ceremonial puck drop honours.
“This is a great event,” said Stelck. “I’ve had the opportunity to talk to people who I haven’t seen for 35 years… it’s great to find out how they have done in life.”
Selkirk College Athletics and Recreation Coordinator Kim Verigin has helped the resurgence of the Saints hockey program.
The Saints hockey program fizzed after peaking in the 1970s, but it’s now back stronger than ever. Thanks to the hard work of individuals like Selkirk College Athletics and Recreation Coordinator Kim Verigin, the Saints are now the gold standard in the BCIHL. The defending league champions are attracting top players from all across the province who are choosing the Selkirk advantage both on and off the ice.
“I kind of forgot all about hockey at Selkirk until they all of a sudden came back,” said Yule. “It’s nice to see it back and attracting so many good players. It’s exciting for the community and the college.”
Stelck—who now lives on Vancouver Island east of Duncan—said getting to watch the team score a thrilling 3-2 victory on Saturday night was indicative of the strength of the program.
“They have done a fantastic job here,” said Stelck. “When I look down the roster and see where these players are from, it’s really an indication of how strong the program it is and how attractive it is for the top quality players to come and play here.”
The Saints will finish the 2013-14 regular season schedule this Saturday night at the Castlegar Recreation Complex against Trinity Western University (puck drop at 7:30 p.m.). The team will then head into the BCIHL post season where they will defend their 2013 BCIHL Championship.