Almost from the moment that a group of citizens got together 30 years ago for a specific project, Leduc has had reason to be proud.
The original intent, long-time Leduc Junior Athletic Club vice-president Ed Fraser said recently, was to help finance a 1982 trip to Sweden for a group of young hockeyplayers.
“The whole thing started with a bingo license,” Fraser said with a smile. “A bunch of us got together to help the kids and we thought it was only a one-year deal. But it didn't end there.”
It was anact of casual generosity,the first step of along and winding path that created lifetime friendships for many and steered several talented athletes toprofessional careers.
As fanswatchsix teams – including the host Leduc Oil Kings – chasethe 2012 TELUS Cup and Canada’s National Midget Championship at the revamped Leduc Recreation Centre, it is quite humbling to follow the journey of development.
TheLeduc Junior Athletic Club was formed following the 1982 trip. More bingos took place. Massive numbers of volunteers stepped up,understanding thatprofits would help to pay registration fees and other essential costs. Bingos have lost their appeal in Leduc, as in many other centres, but everyone speaks quickly in praise ofother contributors – and there were many.
Scott Fraser is the current president of the LJAC and has been for the past 12 years; his predecessors were Dixon Ward (five years), Bob Garries (11 years) and Rod Garraway (three years). That only four men have held the president's chairis a tribute to their commitment and the commitment of the volunteers who continue to work alongside them.
Jim Jones is an executive member of the LJAC and chair of the 2012 TELUS Cup host committee. Jones mentioned Leduc sentthe Midget AAA, Minor Midget AAA and Bantam AAA squads to northern finals in the 2010-11 season. He also pointed out thatnone of the successes recorded by today's LJAC would have been possible without considerable effort in those early years.
“I was the bus guy,” Ed Fraser explained as he mentioned a 28-year affiliation with the LJAC. His efforts made it possible for Leduc teams to travel in style, and the bus was often leased to other organizations as a way of meeting hockey costs. He stepped down as transportation director this year. The bus left when Fraser did and may not be replaced.
Typical of citizens who served for many years without much fanfare is DennisTippe, a 15-year volunteer as treasurer.
“We've had a lot of people like Dennis,” Scott Fraser said. “The job he did was first class.”
When discussing the LJAC, Scott Fraser always comes back to one word – respect:
“We have a great partnership withlocal minor hockey and could nothave won the bid without a lot of help from numerous people,” said the younger Fraser, who played as a Midgetbefore Leduc was admitted to the AMHL as an expansion team about 20 years ago. He also feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to coach for eight years and be of the LJAC executive.
Five years ago, Leduc applied to host the TELUS Cup, but lost out to Red Deer. This time around, opposition came from Prince George, B.C.
“That city hasa5,000-seat arena and we have about 1,500 seats,” said Jones. “We're proud and happy that the decision wasn't based only on the size of the community and the facility.
“Bob Olynyk is the president of our league and hehas earned a lot of respect in hockey. He made a strong statement to support our bid. Other teams in the league helped us, too. That's one of the reasons the AMHL is so strong.”
Regularly, the league sends top prospects to Junior A and Major Junior teams. Leduc athletes stand prominently among the group with more than dozen players from this area entitled to boast of theirNHL experience.
Among the first was defenseman Bob McGill, who played for six NHL teams.Smooth-skating Zarley Zalapski was an offensive threat with Pittsburgh, Calgary, Hartford, Montreal and Philadelphia a few decades back, along with a stint with Canada’s National Men’s Team. Dixon Ward, Jr., son of the former LJAC president, was a standout forward with Vancouver, Buffalo, the New York Rangers, Los Angeles, Toronto and Boston.
The NHL connection stays intact today –Eric Christensen wearsa Minnesota Wild uniform and goaltender Allen York was recently called up by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Veteran LJAC contributors make it known that they're equally proud of the hundreds whoenhanced their lives while playing in Leduc. Michigan Tech grad James Kerr and former Alberta Golden Bear Ben Kilgour certainly belong on such a list. Both played minor-pro hockey after their university careers but made early decisions to use their educational skills.
“I learned a lot about teamwork here with LJAC,” said Oil Kings assistant coach Kerr, who roomed with current NHL enforcer John Scott at Michigan Tech.“A winning attitude was part of the lesson that players got all the time.”
Kilgour, who left minor-pro after a year in Louisiana, was part of three CIS championships at Alberta and also played for a year in Italy.
“I'm extremely grateful to the Leduc Junior Athletic Club,” he said. “I grew up here. The LJAC contribution to my life is something I'll never forget. As players and as young people, we were treated incredibly well. Whenever I can do anything to help out, I'm going to step up and do it.”