BY TERRY LOEWEN
I grew up and played most of my minor hockey in Sylvan Lake! If you wanted to make it to the big time, there was no better place of opportunity. I’m not going to tell my story of playing in the Sylvan Lake minor hockey system and instructing at the famous “Sutter” Sylvan Lake Summer Hockey Camp! Why? Because it is much like all the other kids that had the same great privilege and experience growing up in Sylvan Lake. Here’s our story of Sylvan Lake!
January 20th 2014, the beloved Arena collapsed in Sylvan Lake! Sylvan Lake shouldn’t win out of pity, that the “Old Girl” as everyone calls it collapsed, but for what the “Old Girl” represented and also what it did for not only the kids that grew up in Sylvan learning to play hockey, but the tens of thousands of kids that learned the game at the summer hockey camp!
Yes many arenas across this great hockey country of Canada had and/or have great minor hockey systems and hockey schools, but they didn’t have hockey’s number one hockey family instructing there or one of the most iconic minor hockey men running it!
All six Sutter brothers instructed at the famous Sylvan Lake Summer Hockey Camp! The program was originally developed by Brian Sutter for the owner and operator Graham Parsons, the Montreal Canadiens eighth round pick in the 1972 draft! Brian along with his brothers Daryl, Duane, Brent, Rich and Ron all instructed at the hockey school for several years! There were always other NHL hockey players such as Kelly Kisio, Mike and Randy Moller, Bill Ranford, Mark Tinordi and Darcy Loewen to mention a few, as well as several WHL instructors each and every year! The school is known for not only the great hockey players that teach or taught there but how and what they teach and taught. Here is a quote from a future NHL Hall of famer!
“I attended a few hockey camps every summer. The one that stands out for me the most was Sylvan Lake Hockey School. I’m from St. Albert, AB. Sylvan Lake was about an hour and a half away and my grandpa would take me to the school for the week and we would camp there. The school stands out to me because they not only taught on ice and had plenty of instructors, but had off ice teaching about hockey skills as well. I also liked that at the end of the week of skill they broke us up and had one final “big” game where we played. Most of all it was the time I got to spend camping with my family that I enjoyed the most.” – Jarome Iginla
Now a little about the main person behind the school and Sylvan minor hockey, Graham Parsons. Graham not only operated the hockey school, but he ran the one and only hockey arena in Sylvan Lake until the new multiplex came along a few years ago! I can safely say that with generosity, encouragement and opportunities that Graham gave individual hockey players, he was instrumental in their development to become either AJHL, WHL, NCAA, ECHL, IHL, AHL or NHL players! There are far too many to name! He did this in many ways. Whether it be giving them a position at the hockey school, a little extra time on the rink, a little encouragement or coaching! He did whatever he could to help you succeed whether it was hockey or life and I think that is what minor hockey is or should be all about! Even after my WHL career ended with a bad knee injury, he told me one day in his office that if I ever had a problem, make sure to come and see him and he would help me out!
With all of the help of the people mentioned already, there were and are several incredible coaches, managers, trainers etc. that have made Sylvan Lake a very successful minor hockey association. It has won several provincial championships and developed many highly skilled hockey players to go on to play all levels of semi pro and professional hockey. There are the likes of Derek Morris, Darcy Loewen and Shane Willis that played or are playing in the NHL. Even Hockey Night and Canada’s Ron McLean refereed in Sylvan Lake many times!
Sylvan Lake has a famous 3 on 3 hockey tournament every year on the lake that attracts the likes of Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer, Dave Semenko and even the Hanson Brothers, to name a few!
We have to bring up the fact that Sylvan Lake is also known for the incredible concession that offers a large variety of homemade food and its famous baking! Whether it be a banana cream pie or the delicious cinnamon buns, everyone has to have one when they come. You can literally be in any arena in Alberta and if you mention Sylvan Lake, the concession comes up! It is a shame that the collapsed arena has ended the life of that concession.
The bottom line is, after all said and done, with or without the “Old Girl”, Sylvan Lake is an incredibly proud hockey town that has a huge attachment to the NHL and hockey in general! It has been instrumental in the development for tens of thousands of hockey players throughout North America! It is a minor hockey town of integrity and pride! I’ll say sorry now to all the other worthy Hockeyville’s of this great nation, but Sylvan Lake with all the history and great ambassador’s of our beloved hockey, is not only Hockeyville, it is KRAFT HOCKEYVILLE!!!