Two longstanding WHL rivals had no problem putting aside their differences before a game Saturday to support a greater cause.
The Saskatoon Blades and Regina Pats have been heated rivals dating back to their Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League days, long before they joined the now-WHL 50 years ago.
However, they had no problem putting aside their differences before Saturday’s game in Saskatoon.
Players from both teams stood shoulder to shoulder around center ice to honor the four victims killed in a Jan. 22 shooting in La Loche – a community 375 miles northwest of Saskatoon.
“You’ve got a legendary rival in the province that we’ve gone to war with for decades. There’s great symbolism in that,” Blades president Steve Hogle said. “They come from the provincial capital. Standing arm in arm with our fiercest rival is absolutely wonderful.
“To have them take part in this was a gift.”
A 17-year-old allegedly killed teenagers Drayden Fontaine and Dayne Fontaine before going to Dene High School and shooting teacher Adam Wood and teaching assistant Marie Janvier. The suspect, who cannot be named because of Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice act, has since appeared in court.
Hogle said the Blades wanted to honor those four victims as well as the seven injured in the shooting. Their first home game after the incident was the very next day, so it wasn’t the appropriate time to do anything other than have a moment of silence.
So Hogle connected with a teacher from the school a few days later with an offer to do anything to help lift morale.
He then talked to the Saskatoon Tribal Council and soon the wheels were in motion.
“We have this beautiful game. We have a chance to leverage it for greater good in the community,” Hogle said. “Why not seize that opportunity?”
Blades staff created a display featuring pictures of Wood, Janvier and the Fontaine brothers.
They invited six people from La Loche, whose family members are receiving medical care in Saskatoon, to take part in the pre-game ceremony. The full names of the four children and two adults were not mentioned over the public address system because of a court order to protect the identity of the injured.
Joining Hogle and the citizens of La Loche on the ice were Whitecap First Nation Const. Charles Gladue, who represented the first responders, Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Felix Thomas and Pats president Todd Lumbard.
That led to an ovation from the crowd.
“It was absolutely thunderous,” Hogle said. “It was really powerful.”
Following a moment of silence to remember the victims, but before Michelle Dubois sang the Canadian national anthem, there was a song of healing by drummer by Marc Okicitow.
The ceremony concluded with captains and alternate captains from the Blades and Pats shaking the hands of the people from La Loche.
“There were lots of tears in the house, heavy hearts,” Hogle said. “You lay it out and you think you’ve got something meaningful, but we’re not the judge of that. It’s the people in the stands who will the judge of that. It’s the people from La Loche who will be the judge of that.
“They said they couldn’t believe it.”
The four children were welcomed into the Blades dressing room after the game. In total, 30 people from La Loche were guests of the Blades.
Hogle said the night’s significance really hit home for when a woman from La Loche expressed her gratitude.
“She said she hadn’t seen people smile or laugh since last Friday (before the shooting),” Hogle said.
The Blades have also donated proceeds from the 50/50 draw to the community, totalling more than $5,000 Cdn.
As for the game, the Blades won 7-3 in what was captain Nick Zajac’s 300th WHL contest. The left winger has spent his entire major junior career in Saskatoon. He scored in the victory.
But that took second billing to the Blades and Pats uniting beforehand.
“What better demonstrates unity than the players coming together?” Hogle said. “This is one of those things that’s bigger than the game. It was an opportunity to demonstrate to the people of La Loche that we’re thinking of them and trying to help send love their way.”