This past May the arena in Fort Smith, N.T. was damaged by fire. As in any small town the rink is the hub of the community and the blaze left a hole in the village. However, recently Smith won a TSN contest valued at $25,000 that’ll help rebuild the Centennial Arena – a place that froze my ears while I learned to play hockey.
When I was getting ready to move to the Northwest Territories from Sackville, N.B. my sister, who lives in a northwestern Ontario town, told me I would be playing hockey. I said I probably wouldn’t be since I didn’t have any equipment. Besides, there would be other things to do.
I arrived in Smith in the fall and there were lots of things to do. Hiking and biking and movie nights at the Northern Life Museum. But in late October the only thing the women in town could talk about was hockey. They were so excited to lace up their skates and hit the ice and be part of the Fort Smith Fury, as the team was named.
“Are you going to sign up?” I was asked. A lot.
“I don’t think so,” I would respond. “No equipment.”
“Don’t let that stand in your way,” they answered. “I know Sandra has a pair of skates for sale and Shari has a helmet. The team has some extra stuff like shin pads, elbow pads and chest pads. I’m sure someone has socks and a jersey you can borrow.”
And they did.
That first night of practice I was nervous. Not because I didn’t know how to play: my family cleaned off the pond near us every winter for shinny, so I knew how to play hockey. I was nervous because I didn’t know how to put on any equipment, except for the skates. With my chin up I took all “my” fifth-hand equipment and sat down in the locker room full of women I didn’t know.
I soon got to know them as they patiently explained what went where. As they filtered out onto the ice it left just me and Laura in the change room. Then I realized my pants didn’t have a string or a belt to hold them up.
“No problem,” said Laura. She wound hockey tape around my waist and it did the trick. I put on my “vintage” jersey and I looked like a real hockey player. I took to the ice that night feeling the part even though I definitely was not a CWHL (Canadian Women’s Hockey League) superstar.
I played hockey for three years in the Smith arena. Loved every
minute of it. I especially loved skating in that rink. It’s beautiful. The wooden beams and the ceiling made me feel like I was in a cathedral. When the fire hit I was extremely sad. But thanks to TSN’s Kraft Celebration Tour contest, people will fill the Centennial Arena again.
TSN was broadcasting from Fort Smith last Friday. Smith, with its population of 2,600, beat out Whitehorse — a city 10 times the size — for the Kraft Celebration Tour prize. Now that’s community spirit.