It’s all about local pride and goes beyond the mere game of hockey. The enthusiasm dripped off the group of young men and women who had gathered Apr. 20 at the Smithers Brewery for a recruiting drive to get people interested in helping revive the Steelheads hockey team.
While the crowd was not as big as organizers might have hoped, that enthusiasm was passed on to anyone present.
One story told a lot about how the game of hockey can have a long-lasting effect on someone’s life.
It was the most memorable goal of Jeremy Chazsey’s hockey career. His Steelheads linemate fed him a pass which he put past the goalie with less than a minute left in the final game to complete an undefeated season.
It does not happen often in any player’s career and it was a high spot that is part of fond memories of playing for a local team.
It was not that long ago a Smithers team took to the ice in the Central Interior Hockey League (CIHL), but that kind of memory has not had even a chance the past two seasons since the Steelheads have not been playing.
In Canada, one of the highlights of many communities is the hockey team that plays at a higher level and brings the local supporters out.
Chaszey is among a group of former players who are trying to revive interest in the Steelheads. Three locals played in Kitimat last season since there was no team to play for here.
“The idea that we need to be on the road like that is crazy,” Chaszey said. “We were travelling to Kitimat to play every weekend. We were paying for the gas and for the hotel and meals. The idea that I have to do that every weekend is crazy.”
The largest part of the problem is the traditional hockey culture in Canada, according to Chaszey.
“We need to become more like what they have in Europe with their leagues that keep people playing a lot longer,” he said. “The idea that if you are not on your way to the NHL by the time you are 18 doesn’t work. There are only a very small number of players like Conner McDavid.”
Chaszey feels that he played his best hockey when he was in his mid-20s.
“We need to have an approach similar to what they have in Europe with a wider variety and range of leagues that provide for the opportunity to play at a higher level,” he explained. “We don’t have anything after junior for Canadian kids and we are falling behind in the number of players that we are producing. We don’t have a pro league like in Europe. We don’t have the college and university programs like they do in the States. If you’re 20 years old, you are done,”
Eric Tevely did not play for the Steelheads and is a relative newcomer to Smithers. “
This is a very supportive community,” he said. “I have never seen a more generous community. If you want something done and you have a plan, the community will be there for you and make it happen. I’m new to the community but as I get to know people, they ask me about whether we are going to have a team next year.”
Brian Green is a former player who is on board to help in the organizational efforts.
“Some of the better players were going on the higher levels, but that is not all of them,” he said. “The fact that they can go on to those levels shows that the players and coaches are doing a good job. At this point we have some of the guys who have come back after playing elsewhere at a high level and are interested to play as well as others who want to play. With just a bit of effort we have been able to come up with more than 20 players who have shown interest in playing in the fall.”
Some feel change in the league is necessary.
“Let’s make the season a bit longer so that maybe we can play one weekend and the next we won’t be playing,” said Chaszey.
The first step for Smithers, however, is to get going again and have the community behind the team.
Chaszey feels it all comes back to the young players and their dreams.
“The kids need to see that we are playing at a higher level and that they can aspire for that,” he said. “Then maybe those kids will keep playing rather than stopping so early. Instead of giving up at age 18, they can continue because they will see that they have a path like they might make the Steelheads.”
He thinks the most important task at this point is not to go out to win every game. Rather, it’s to put on entertaining hockey and build the culture to show that the game is not finished when you are 18.
“If we can get the support in place for the team, we will be able to build it,” he said. “We can get those younger players involved and interested.”
Of course, the logistics and the most importantly, the players, will be key elements. Chaszey feels the players who want to play will be the individuals who will drive themselves to the games if they have to.
“We’re here to put on a good show which just so happens is the game of hockey,” he said.
The biggest issue right now is to get organized with the community behind the team.
“We are starting from scratch and we need the community to rally behind us,” Chaszey said. “We’ll be knocking on doors and looking for people to help out.”
With the enthusiasm that the small group showed Saturday evening, there should be no reason to believe the team will not be back on the ice in the fall giving us the higher level of hockey that has been absent from local play. They do not yet have everything organized to the extent necessary but it will just be a matter of time before we see more of the elements that will tell us they are well on the way.