Simply by geography, Selkirk may reside in the shadow of Manitoba's largest city. But when it comes to hockey, the city certainly has its own identity.
As the site of the 2009 TELUS Cup, Selkirk and its surrounding area has a distinct hockey heritage that is unique when compared to other similar-sized communities in the province.
Based on its location just north of Winnipeg and in the southeast portion of the farming-rich Interlake region, Selkirk is unmatched in its mix of urban and rural culture in the game.
As a long-time member of the Winnipeg Minor Hockey Association, the Lord Selkirk Minor Hockey Association (LSMHA) is the umbrella organization for four community clubs, including three in the adjacent areas of St. Andrews, East Selkirk and Clandeboye. The area boasts minor hockey programs or involvement in all age groups and levels, and is home to two junior hockey teams and one senior club.
"We still struggle at times in the occasional age group to keep up competitively with other areas of the city where they may have twice as many kids to choose from,” says Rick Setter, president of the LSMHA. “But we still have that rural-type feeling and the grittiness that’s associated with that.”
And Setter would know, especially since the 45-year-old longtime Selkirk resident carved out a decent minor hockey career that included playing in the Air Canada Cup (now the TELUS Cup) for the Midland, North Winnipeg, Selkirk (MNS) Stars in 1981.
This time around, three Selkirk-area kids will be involved in the National Midget Championship as members of the tournament’s host team, the Winnipeg Thrashers. Forwards Craig Scott (St. Andrews) and Cody Waterman (East Selkirk) along with defenceman Brett Overwater (Clandeboye) will provide the local flavour, and will do so in their own backyard.
"We're very proud of that,” says Setter. “Especially that they're spread throughout three of our community clubs. I think that represents our area very well."
The Selkirk area has graduated three players of note to the National Hockey League ranks. The latest is forward Darren Helm (St. Andrews), who hoisted the Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings last year and won gold with Canada’s National Junior Team in 2007.
Helm is the ambassador for the 2009 TELUS Cup and just five seasons ago played for the Selkirk Fishermen of the Keystone Junior B Hockey League. The Fishermen are also one of the longest operating amateur clubs in the country, with a history dating back to 1897.
Andrew Murray (Selkirk) spent five years with his hometown Selkirk Steelers before moving onto Bemidji State University, where he finished his NCAA career as the program’s all-time leading scorer, earning an NHL contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Neil Wilkinson (Selkirk) is the other notable local, with 460 NHL games on his resume with five different organizations, including the Winnipeg Jets. He is a graduate of Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Steelers.
But what Selkirk was most notoriously known for in hockey around the province was being home to “The Barn” – arguably Manitoba’s most difficult arena to play in.
Constructed in 1949 and formally named the Selkirk Arena, The Barn presented an intimidating environment for every visiting team. The seating was tight and over top the ice, with the rink itself small and boxy. It served the community of 10,000 for years and likely identified the city more abroad than for its reputation as a world-class catfish destination or for its Scottish ancestry.
“I grew up in that rink,” says Al Hares, head coach of the Fishermen, a team he’s been involved with for 29 of his 43 seasons as a coach in Selkirk minor hockey. “I lived there. They couldn’t kick me out.”
Hares, known as Mr. Hockey and Selkirk’s 2005 Citizen of the Year, has designated his basement as an archive to the sport in his hometown and has pictures of every team and player he’s ever coached.
When asked how much longer he would stay involved in the game in Selkirk, he jokes that he’s “63 going on 21.”
But for all of the local fondness The Barn has historically in Selkirk, perhaps the biggest boon to the city and hockey in the area came in 1990 when the Selkirk Recreation Complex opened for business. After years of fundraising, hockey moved “uptown” in Selkirk and really put the city on the map in terms of facilitating a first-class venue to host major local, regional and national events.
“We had to have it,” admits Hares, who also coaches a 9A II team in East Selkirk this season. “Our area has grown so much we needed another rink. And having the second biggest rink in the capital region has been great for us.”
When the local bid committee went out in search of a host rink for this year’s TELUS Cup, only one stood out – no other facility offered the same amenities as the Selkirk Recreation Complex.
“I don’t know what we’d do without it,” says Hares. “It’s the place to go. People ask me what church I belong to? And I tell them, ‘The Rec Centre.’”
And because of it, Selkirk and its surrounding area now casts its own shadow in the capital region.