RHINO'S RAMBLINGS - Hockey Night In Turtleford
By Robert Thomas Opinion/Commentary
At the intersection of highways 303 and 26 there sits a simple sign – the hockey sign. It’s a sign where everyone can see all of the important games at the Turtleford Arena as well as other sporting and important events being held in the community..
In years past it was seemingly reserved for one team and one team alone - the mighty Turtleford Tigers.
For those of you unaware the mighty Tigers were once a powerhouse in the long defunct Big Four Hockey League. The Big Four was senior mens hockey at its finest. A local regional league with teams from Glaslyn, Paradise Hill, St Walburg and the much despised team out of Edam. Man everybody hated those “French” guys. Today attitudes have changed.
In the past the mighty Tigers were the team to watch.
But times change and the once mighty Tigers are gone. So too are the Mervin Raiders. For many people just a memory of when male only hockey dominated the sport.
In the heyday of the Tigers even having a girl on a boys hockey team would make people snicker. Girls played ringette and that was the extent of it all. The few girls who did play hockey at times had to put up with boys who did not want them in their leagues. That is the truth of the situation.
But here we were a couple of decades later on a Saturday night – Tigers night – and female hockey was centre stage. Welcome to the new reality of Hockey Night In Turtleford.
This is how far the sport, not just female, has progressed.
In a town where male dominated hockey was once king the female game has taken over.
In all the finery once reserved for the Tigers the show in Turtleford on Saturday evening given to female hockey was nothing short of a miracle if you think back to the attitudes of just 30 years ago.
For the Moose Jaw Bantam A Mavericks I am doubting any of the team realize what has happened in Turtleford and other communities when it comes to female hockey. There has been a monumental shift not only in how girls hockey is viewed but also the enthusiasm put behind it.
For those of you who never followed the Bantam A Mavericks in their playoff run this year you missed out on some of the toughest and best hockey on display in the City of Moose Jaw.
For the most part the Mavericks' 2019 playoff run was some of the most entertaining hockey out there.
I remember game one versus Balcarres where the teams went into double overtime.
The rink had a large contingent of Balcarres fans including a few who now call Moose Jaw home. It was literally a game either side could have won but in the end the Mavericks won.
In that group of Moose Jaw residents out cheering for Balcarres there were a couple of Moose Jaw Warriors season ticket holders.
The day following the Balcarres loss I asked them what they thought of the game and they flat out told me “That was a good of a game if not better than any Warriors game.”
Throughout this year's Bantam A Mavericks playoff run I started to ask questions of fans from other communities and one of the big things I heard was how well they were coached.
I also heard it from more than a few within male circles of Moose Jaw minor hockey that the Mavericks probably had the best minor hockey coach in the entire City of Moose Jaw.
I asked Stephane Gauvin about this and his response was no it was not true it actually were the girls who were the most important ones there.
Now Turtleford is a hockey town. It’s a question I posed to people there who know their hockey and they were paying attention. More than one told me they could see it in the warm-ups. They could also see how the Mavericks coaching staff was not paying attention to their team but rather watching the Sharks as they went through their pre-game drills. The Mavericks were a well coached team.
Now with that said does it take away from any of the players? No not at all.
What happened at the Turtleford Arena on Saturday evening on the score sheet was no way indicative of really how the game played out.
Given one or two bounces their way in the opening period it could have easily been a three goal or even more advantage for the Mavericks. But that I suppose is the game of hockey.
Sometimes it is not just the effort you put into it but also the way the puck bounces.
But looking back at the entire Mavericks season it was yet again perfect.
You did not have the blowout games of last year but you did have some fine and entertaining hockey. It was a year where heart, soul and desire were not just cliches for some sports writer to fill game reports with but rather the honest truth about the team.
Now were the Mavericks a weaker team than they were last year? In some respects perhaps yes but in the majority no. Its simply a case where their opponents have gotten better both in players, coaching and the resources their local hockey associations and businesses throw behind them.
And that in my opinion is a good thing. Female hockey in communities where it once was something to snicker about has earned the respect of fans and their communities.
This is what I saw in Turtleford on Saturday evening. Hockey Night In Turtleford had changed from the days of the Tigers, Cougars and the Mervin Raiders. Days some reminisce as the glory days of hockey in that community.
As they took the long bus ride back to Moose Jaw in the middle of the night I’m going to guess it was a ride where they questioned the game. How tough of a team the Northwest Sharks are or should I say how they play a tougher more physical style of hockey.
But I’m sort of doubting the Mavericks will realize how much hockey has changed in the 35 years since I last laced up the blades and put my heart and soul into the game as an original member of the Mervin Raiders and skated in the Turtleford Arena.
Hockey is a sport, there always has to be those who are declared champions at the end of the season.
But despite not winning it all what the Bantam A Mavericks proved in the 2018-2019 season were they were not only a team to be reckoned with but also girls, oops correct me female hockey is here to stay.