Innisfail welcomes former NHLers

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INNISFAIL – The Innisfail Eagles welcomed former NHL players, coaching staff and officials for the town’s first-ever NHL alumni game.

The event took place Nov. 25 at the Innisfail Arena and featured the likes of Jamie Macoun, Warren Skorodenski, Mike Cvik, Curtis Glencross, Kurt Bensmiller, Colin Fraser, Theoren Fleury and others, including special guest, musician Gord Bamford.

“It was a great game on everybody’s part,” said Brian Sutter, Innisfail Eagles head coach. “We wanted something special for the town and for our team. The guys that came here to help support it and the people that watched it saw something special. We got a lot of everything,” he added. “It was a pretty special night.”

Innisfail and area residents packed the Innisfail Arena to watch former NHLers and members of the current Eagles roster square off in an alumni game that included plenty of action and laughs.

Stanley Cup champion and Olympic gold medallist Theoren Fleury was in Saturday’s lineup. He is no stranger to Innisfail.

“When I played for Horse Lake, we played against Innisfail, so I’ve played a couple of games in this rink,” said Fleury of his AA men’s senior hockey team, whom he played one season for in 2004 and 2005.

Fleury said small towns like Innisfail have an important role in hockey.

“These little towns are the heartbeat of hockey in Canada,” he said. “As a kid growing up in Russell, Manitoba we couldn’t afford to go to NHL games, so the guys we looked up to were the guys that played senior hockey in our hometown.

“I know how important it is to have senior hockey teams in these communities.”

Fleury noted several changes to the sport since he played in the NHL, including more awareness about nutrition and mental health issues. One change Fleury does not agree with is the NHL’s decision to not send NHL players to the 2018 Olympics in February.

“When we agreed to go in 1998, we agreed to go to every Olympics after that,” said Fleury. “We shouldn’t get to pick and choose.

“Having an opportunity to play in two Olympics, it was the thrill of a lifetime,” he added. “I think they made a mistake by not going this year, but I’m still going to watch whoever puts a Team Canada jersey on. I don’t care if it’s at 3 o’clock in the morning, I’m still going to watch.”

He offered this advice to young hockey players in the sport today:

“Focus on the experience as opposed to something that you don’t have a crystal ball to predict,” said Fleury. “We put our kids in sports to learn about respect, loving and caring for our teammates and to learn about consequences, that we’re responsible for our choices and actions.”

It’s that experience in hockey that is worth celebrating, he noted.

“We’re not celebrating this (NHL) crest. We’re celebrating Innisfail as a community and that’s something they should be proud of,” said Fleury. “At the end of the day, that’s what this (event) is all about.”

Theoren Fleury, former NHL superstar

“These little towns are the heartbeat of hockey in Canada.”

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Kristine Jean

Kristine Jean is a reporter with the Innisfail Province, joining the newspaper in 2013. She covers Penhold municipal politics, news and community events as well as sports in and around the town as well as in Innisfail.