For more than a quarter of a century Wayne Kartusch and the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) were synonymous.
It was in 1971 that Kartusch first took over the role of SJHL president, on the suggestion of a long-time hockey associate Stan Dunn, who was at the time coaching in Swift Current.
Kartusch himself was behind the bench of the Regina Pat Canadians, the SJHL affiliate farm team of the Western Hockey League’s Pats. It was a position he had held for six years.
"He (Dunn) said 'Why don't you take a run at being our league president'," recalled Kartusch, who added he liked the idea enough to decide to give the position a one-year commitment.
"I went on a year-to-year basis for the next 20 years," said Kartusch, each of those years holding the position of president on a part-time basis. Then, for six years, before retiring following the 2002-03 season, he would hold the position on a full-time basis.
"It was just getting to be too much work on a part-time basis. There wasn't time for proper preparation and the leg work some things required," he said. "It (going full-time) certainly opened the door and made it so more attention could be paid to details."
While Kartusch admitted "never in a million years" did he expect to hold the position of
president for 26 years, his varied background made him a rather obvious choice to assume the role in the
A Regina product, Kartusch played in the early edition of the league he would one day oversee. "I played junior hockey for the Pats when that team was part of the Saskatchewan junior league," he said.
As for his time as SJHL president, Kartusch struggles with the question of his number one memory. "I've been asked that so often, and I can't pick out any one thing. Every year had its satisfaction and disappointments."
What Kartusch does remember fondly are the people. "There are so many good people with the teams, sometimes they’re rather colourful people, but they're still good people."
However, each person comes to the SJHL Board table with the interests of their own teams fresh in their minds. Kartusch said that was at times a challenge in itself, where he found he had to be a consensus builder. "You had to get them to think out of their own box, and think about the big picture," he said, adding he was sure that was the case in any league.
Kartusch is also proud of the way the SJHL has grown as a league.
"The growth of the league, and the stability of it, is rewarding."
When it comes to players, Kartusch said finding talent is increasingly a challenge throughout hockey, and at the junior level there may simply be too many teams vying for an ever-shallower talent pool.
"There are fewer kids playing hockey. I think the talent pool is becoming more limited," he said. "You see that all the way up to the NHL."
For any league, success, especially on the national stage, is gratifying. In the case of the SJHL it has had teams in the Royal Bank Cup (formally Centennial Cup) on numerous occasions, although not winning the crown as often as Kartusch may have desired.
"We didn't always win it, but we certainly had our share of opportunities."
Each visit to the national stage was a credit to the team and the league, suggested Kartusch. "It's a tribute to the team, and also a tribute to the league. You can't get there by yourself. You have to have good competition to prepare for the next level."
As for moving on, Kartusch said it was not easy.
"No question I miss it," he said, adding in his first season away he headed to Mexico for five weeks just to stay well away from the rink.
At the same time, Kartusch said he believes he left at the appropriate time. "I think the league was left in pretty good shape," he said modestly.
-- Excerpt (plus additions) from Guts and Go: Great Saskatchewan Hockey Stories by Calvin Daniels, from Heritage House Publishing