Right in the centre - Looking to the south


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

I know that things are done differently in the United States. The level of intensity for sports, even at the high school level is way beyond what we Canadians experience. Sports at all levels take on a whole new perspective when even high school football and hockey games can have thousands of fans in attendance.

Last weekend, my wife and I took a three day holiday to Grand Forks to be part of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League U.S. Identification Camp. High school hockey players from across North Dakota and Minnesota, with some from much further away than that, attended the camp. It was held at the famous Ralph Engelstad Arena. We worked the hallways for two days, talking to players and parents, telling them about the Neepawa Natives Junior “A” Hockey Club, about Neepawa and Manitoba and the MJHL. There were over 80 players attending and all of them were interested in taking a serious look at playing in Canada. The MJHL allows for six American players per team, so there are theoretically 66 spots up for grabs any given year.

The level of interest isn’t surprising, as Canada is still considered a world leader in hockey development. The gap is closing, obviously, as U.S. hockey players are developing in larger numbers every year.

One of the reasons the gap is closing is that U.S. hockey fans and supporters are willing to put tons more money, enthusiasm and effort into building their programs. There are eight ice surfaces in Grand Forks and the population is 57,000 people. Brandon has 48,000 people and they have four ice surfaces, that I know about.

Both are university towns, but the level of commitment to facilities is astoundingly different. It is likely unfair to compare the Ralph Engelstad Arena to the Keystone Centre in Brandon, but there are still lessons that can be learned. The “Ralph” is considered one of the finest arenas in North America. It was totally financed and given by Ralph and Betty Engelstad to UND Grand Forks. It has been called the Taj Mahal of arenas and it is stunningly beautiful and very user friendly. It also cost $100 million and is leased to UND for a dollar per year. To say the Engelstads were philanthropic would be an understatement.

But aside from the obvious level of enthusiasm and financial commitment, there are lessons we Manitobans can learn. The U.S. facilities are just built better than many of ours. Before anyone gets defensive about that concept, understand that the population of North Dakota is quite a bit less than Manitoba, but the sports facilities are better, the roads are way better. It is very obvious.

I suspect the difference is largely in attitude. Canadians, and, it seems, Manitobans, in particular, are willing to accept lower standards. Manitobans tend to sit back and wait for the government to do everything for us. Our hockey program is somewhat stronger (so far), but when it comes to training, facilities and enthusiasm, the North Dakotans have us eating their dust.

It is my firm belief that we could do better and should do better in terms of facilities, training, coaching and maybe, most of all, in attitude. There are lessons to be learned from our nearest American neighbours.

Disclaimer: The writer serves as a volunteer president of the Manitoba Community Newspaper Association. The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being  the view of the MCNA board or Banner & Press staff.