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Portage College men's hockey program celebrates 15 years

LAC LA BICHE - The Portage College Voyageurs finished up January with a celebration marking a decade and a half of college hockey. 

On Saturday, Jan. 27, a dinner was held in the Portage College Lac La Biceh campus gymnasium for alumni, parents of current Voyageurs players, volunteers, and staff to mark 15 years of the Voyageur men’s hockey program.  

Jim Knight, the manager of athletics and recreation for Portage College, said the invite-only supper was just one part of a full weekend set aside to honour the program that began in 2009.   

“We made announcements on Friday and Saturday during the games against Red Deer about our alumni and the parents in attendance,” Knight told Lakeland This Week. “Saturday afternoon we had ice for our alumni to skate along some of our current roster in a shinny game. This was a great event, and we look forward to more events in the upcoming years to engage with our hockey alumni and parents of the current team.” 

The 2008-09 season was the first-ever appearance of men’s hockey at Portage College. According to Knight, while the school might have had some recreation drop-in, or shinny, hockey in years past for students, there were no official hockey team.  

The idea to bring a team to Portage , Knight says, came about as officials looked to find more ways to increase the profile of the post-secondary institutions.   

“There were people that were looking for a way to market the college. There was also conversation about adding new sports to the college,” he said, adding that the decision to add a men’s hockey team which would draw players from across Canada would market the team. 

The Voyageurs have played every one of the past 15 seasons in Lac La Biche. The team’s home ice in its first few seasons was at the old Centennial Arena in Lac La Biche. When the Bold Center opened in 2011, the Centennial Arena was mothballed the following year.  

The Portage hockey program has had five head coaches over its 15-year span. The team’s first coach, Terry Ewasiuk, as Knight explains, did all the heavy lifting not only starting up the program, but also recruiting an entirely new roster of players, which he says is not easy.  

Impressively, the Voyageurs were a mainstay in ACAC playoffs in their first years of play.   

Change and consistency  

Over the past 15 years, the hockey program at Portage College has changed in some areas while staying consistent in others.  

Knight stated over that time period, teams which had been in the ACAC moved to the CanadaWest Conference, which includes Mount Royal and MacEwan, Red Deer re-entered the league, and Keyano came back to the league before leaving again.  

Knight says the league has evolved with the teams, growing into a highly competitive and highly skilled program. Games are now refereed by four-man officiating crews, he said, as an example of that growth, and fighting is almost entirely gone. 

Knight said Portage College has stayed consistent in bringing athletes from across Canada to Lac La Biche to play on its hockey team.  

“We stayed consistent with our hockey athletes giving back to the community of Lac la Biche,” he added.  

Over the course of the past 15 years, the types of programs taken by hockey athletes has also changed.  

“We are seeing more Business and University Transfer students now,” he said.    

Alumni in attendance   

Several alumni were present at the event, including Matt Hupka who played in the first 2008-2009 season. Pierre Sparklingeyes, a 2015-2016 season player, and veteran Richard Cameron, who played with the team from 2011 to 2013 and again from 2015 to 2017.  

Voyageur to ACAC Hall of Fame 

One of the Voyageur alumni players will be honoured later this year in the ACAC Hall of Fame. Knight said the player will be officially announced on February 20 and will be inducted on May 10 at a special ceremony. 

Knight said it’s diffiult to say who, among the 250 or so individual players that have worn the Voyageur jerseys, is considered to be notable alumni.  

Every year, he said, the team has several young players who are able to give more time to the community. A lot of this, he says, is due to the academic program the players were in and the amount of free time they had.  

“When you look at the names of who played here over the 15 years people will debate who was more notable than others,” he said.  

 Knight said whoever is chosen for this honour will represent Portage College in the Hall of Fame along with past inductees Lorne Moen, a former manager of Athletics and Recreation and Felix Lewis, a standout men’s volleyball athlete from the Voyageur volleyball program in the 1990s.  

Good news continues 

Keeping the positive Voyageur news coming, the current men’s hockey team won their first regular season game over the February 2 weekend, beating SAIT 7-2 on Friday night in the first of a two-game away series in Calgary. The Trojans came back for Saturday’s game, beating the Voyageurs 4-3. 





Chris McGarry

About the Author: Chris McGarry

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