Hockey in South Central Saskatchewan will never fade away

Since the pioneering era throughout Western Canada, hockey nights were the centre point of entertainment and sports in the midst of prairie winters.

In much of the world, including Great Britain, the Netherlands, Ireland, South America and Australasia, hockey is a sport played on a field with hooked sticks.

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Ice hockey originated in Canada in the modern form, but has European, North African and Persian roots.  

Canadians borrowed field hockey from Great Britain and adapted the sport to the ice, thus increasing the heroics in the process of this already high-velocity game. The first indoor hockey match in Canada was organized in Montreal on March 3, 1875. Vital details of this soon-to-be popular sport were said to have started in Montreal in 1875 in this game played on what would soon be a regulation-sized arena with a puck.         

Some dispute Montreal’s claim, insisting ice hockey’s first indoor match actually happened in Scotland. Whatever the case, hockey became a lifeblood of activity for players and spectators in Canadian winters, but remarkably in the prairies.  

Certainly, hockey games were vital in Saskatchewan’s history, including Assiniboia and the town’s neighbouring communities.

The first hockey game in Assiniboia happened in December 1914, with C. McMurphy as president. In this era of the early 1900s, games were played on the Glide Rink.

But the First World War soon deterred the interests of Assiniboia’s younger men as they either enlisting or were conscripted to fight in Europe, as opposed to playing hockey at home amongst the wheatfields.

After the war, the Assiniboia Hockey Club formed in 1919 with R. J. Grant as president.

The Assiniboia Skating Company started in 1921 – Dr. H.R. Ross acted as president in this fledgling league. Assiniboia’s newest rink was built on Block 8, Third Avenue East – the rink opened in Dec. 26, 1921. A year later, the rink gained a tin roof.

Hockey games in the 1920s were played between teams from Limerick, Lafleche, Gravelbourg, Mossbank and Readlyn.

George Needham arrived in Assiniboia in 1924. Needham kept a blacksmith and welding shop on Third Avenue East then started farming in the RM Lake of the Rivers. He also became a renowned hockey coach in town, instructing many of Assiniboia’s midget, juvenile and junior teams (Heritage '85, p. 64).

Hockey’s popularity grew in Assiniboia after the Second World War.  

Recently suspended because of COVID-19, the Notekeu League represented Assiniboia’s senior players since the mid-1960s.   

Jackie Schlageter (granddaughter of the late Mr. Fernand Larochelle), authored a piece about the league now serving a large region in Southwest and South Central Saskatchewan.

“In the fall of 1958, the Notekeu Hockey League was organized. Its original teams were Aneroid, Kincaid, Ponteix and Vanguard. The first league President was Mr. Fernand Larochelle with secretary Mr. Jack Moir, both of Ponteix.”

Assiniboia joined the league in the latter part of the 1960s, along with other communities, such as Willow Bunch, Gravelbourg and Rockglen. Later, Coronach, Shamrock and Hodgeville became part of league in the 1980s. Assiniboia had rejoined the Notekeu League recently, along with the league's newest members; Mossbank, Morse, Chaplin, Craik, Glentworth and Vanguard.

The Notekeu Hockey League celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2008.

Once referred to as the South Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League from 1992 to 2006, the Prairie Junior was founded in 2007-2008 after the SSJHL and the North Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (NSJHL) merged.

The Assiniboia Junior B Rebels joined the SSJHL in 1992 in the Bob Johnston Division, remaining in the league after the name changed in 2007.

This year, Al Sinclair, head coach for the Assiniboia Junior B Rebels, announced in April the team weren’t playing in the 2020-2021 season because of the pandemic.

Neither the Assiniboia Senior Rebels nor the Assiniboia Junior Rebels are playing hockey at this time in December 2020. But hockey is certain to return to Assiniboia, because the sport is so ingrained into the town’s past with fearless organizers, coaches, players and dedicated fans dominating the region's sport history since the early 1900s.

Hockey will resurface in Assiniboia long after COVID-19 is beaten and converted into a footnote.