(Originally published in the Kindersley Clarion on Feb. 25/2015)
Note: To read the original report regarding the Klippers’ financial situation, click here.
The West Central Events Centre (WCEC) looked a bit different last weekend when the Iron Horse Kindersley Klippers faced the Melfort Mustangs. For the first time in a while, there was life in the building.
It was a heartening sight after the Klippers had announced its financial situation earlier in the week. The Klippers are $150,000 in debt. Simply put, if things do not change the community is in serious risk of losing its junior hockey team. That’s why it was uplifting to see the arena with some passion in it during what was one of the best junior hockey games played in the arena this season. Two of the nation’s best teams squared off in the WCEC with the 11th-ranked Klippers defeating the ninth-ranked Mustangs 3-2 in a shootout.
It’s been disheartening to be at the arena for a Klippers game and sometimes see hardly 150 people in the stands for a game. At some points, it has been common to see the arena filled with more fans from the opposing team than Kindersley’s own. That was most notable back in January when some loud, rambunctious Flin Flon Bombers fans had turned Kindersley’s arena into a version of Flin Flon’s Whitney Forum.
But that wasn’t the case last weekend. Fans came out dressed in spandex costumes. Noise makers were evidently heard being rattled by Klippers fans following great saves from goaltender Evan Weninger. Young fans wearing Klippers jerseys pressed their noses against the glass and looked awestruck as bodies on the ice sped by them. Their signs cheering on their favourite player and billet-brothers lined the glass at the far end of the arena.
Yes, there were Melfort fans in the arena, and they were certainly heard. But for one of the first times this season, the approximate 800 fans (according to the SJHL stat box) in the arena made it feel like a Klippers home game. And the Klippers noticed.
“Awesome. It was awesome,” head coach and general manager Rockie Zinger said of the turnout. “The guys notice that there’s more people in there…our guys feed off the energy.”
There shouldn’t be a doubt in the minds of anyone; the fans at the arena contributed to the Klippers’ success. Home-ice advantage is a real thing in hockey and you – the fans – contributed to that win. The Klippers have the best home-ice record in the SJHL this season with a 21-3-0-1 record in the West Central Events Centre.
There’s success on the ice. Yet, the only noise to be heard in the building for much of the season was the boom of an air horn followed by silence.
“You could tell that it was loud in our building. We didn’t need the air horn to cover up the fact that it was crickets in here,” Zinger said after the game against Melfort.
While none of the Klippers players would probably admit it. It is disheartening to play in front of an empty building. These players, some who will go on to the college level, some that will play in the Western Hockey League, and maybe even a small number who will one day get a chance in the NHL (just like Kindersley’s own Derek Dorsett), dream of the big stage. They want to play in front of fans who want them in the community.
“All these kids want to play in front of a packed building. None of them grow up dreaming of playing a high-level of hockey in front of no one,” Zinger said. “They all dream of the Montreal Forum or the building being sold out and being in that key moment. That’s every little kid’s hockey dream. For our crowd tonight to give them a little glimpse of that and allow them to feel that was awesome.”
While the WCEC can’t compare to one of the most storied NHL arenas like the Montreal Forum, hockey fans in Kindersley can give the Klippers a taste of it.
Yes, we all lead busy lives. We take time to travel our kids across the region for minor hockey games of their own, for dance classes, for appointments and more. But these junior Klippers games are more than just a hockey game. It’s a community event. It’s a place to see your neighbours. It’s a place to grow together as strong and united. These hockey games are just as much about us, as they are about what is happening on the ice.
This year’s Klippers team is pretty good. It is one of the best to ever be iced in the franchise’s 22-year history. I challenge you to pack that arena. Not only that. But I challenge you to make that arena loud. It’s okay to be loud at the game. It’s okay to be a little aggressive and boo the other team. This is our arena, and it’s time other SJHL teams become fearful of coming to the West Central Events Centre. The Klippers will feed off that energy, while the visiting team will sink under the pressure.
The fans can play just as much of a role in how the Klippers do in the playoffs as the team on the ice does. I feel pretty confident in saying the more fans who come to the arena and cheer on their team, the further the Klippers will go in this season’s playoffs.
So let’s start now. This Friday the Klippers will take on division rivals, the Notre Dame Hounds. The Klippers can clinch the Kramer Division title with a win over the Hounds. An accomplishment in itself that will mean a lot more to the team by celebrating the feat with people in the seats. Not only that, but it’s something that we as a community should take pride in.
Do what you can to support this team. Take in the Klippers games this weekend. Come proud. Come loud. Turn these games into community events and celebrate the team’s success with your friends, family, and neighbours.
This community needs the team as much as the team needs the community.