As Canada’s men’s Olympic hockey team gets set for its first game on Thursday in South Korea, a Saskatchewan-born player’s hometown celebrated his selection to the squad with some competition and community boosterism of its own.
Dubbed Vey Day by mayor Steven Skoworodko, Linden Vey’s hometown of Wakaw, Sask. honoured his selection to the national men’s team on Wednesday.
Among the 25 skaters on the team, Vey is the only player from Saskatchewan. His hometown is made up of approximately 920 people; it sits about 65 kilometres south of Prince Albert, at the intersection of Highway 2 and Highway 41.
Vey played his minor hockey in Wakaw, before moving on to play in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League with the Beardy’s Blackhawks, and then with the Medicine Hat Tigers in the Western Hockey League.
“It’s unbelievable to be able to be in that position,” Vey’s grandfather, Max Fiolleau, said of his grandson’s national team selection.
Most recently for the 2017-18 hockey season, Vey has split his time between the Astana Barys of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and the Zurich SC Lions of the Swiss-A League.
“When you look at the big scale of everything, there’s a tremendous amount of hockey players. And to be chosen as a top-25 player is something he’ll never forget.”
Vey’s grandfather also spoke highly of Wakaw’s passion for hockey and its community of supporters around the town’s minor hockey programs.
He had a hand in contributing to that community – and in part, Vey’s success – as a member of the town’s council in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
“We built that arena. That was our main purpose; we wanted that arena in town,” he said, referencing the still-standing, still-used Wakaw & District Jubilee Arena on 2nd Avenue, just off Highway 2.
The arena stands out as a metal-clad community centre, finished with alternating sections of faded black and pale yellow metal sheets that effect the appearance of thick stripes.
“We were lucky at the time to be able build it, because we built that building with artificial ice for about $350,000, which is nothing,” he said with a smile.
“And I think it’s the backbone of the community, as a rink, especially in the winter time. Our winters are long. It’s a place for gathering and a good place for the children to be off the streets and something to do.
Fiolleau participated as a judge and a viewer in one of the day’s events, the Go Linden Window Wars. Local businesses decorated their storefronts, windows, buildings and interiors with Linden Vey, team Canada-themed designs of their choosing.
The winners for exterior design were The Wakaw Recorder and the Wakaw Pharmacy. Lake Country Co-Op Lumber won for interior design.
Along with Vey’s grandfather, a selection of students and teachers from Wakaw School made their way from business to business, evaluating each one’s unique design-take on supporting Vey.
Blustering wind and light snow didn’t stop the meticulous note-takers from braving the elements.
Meanwhile, at the town’s school, a group of grade 3 students played a competitive game of floor hockey, in front of tens of their screaming, cheering classmates watching from the gym’s stage.
Zoe Sander marvelled at how much fun she had. “We usually don’t do this. It’s my first time doing this with people watching,” she said, excitedly.
Floor hockey is the only type she plays, for now, she said. But she agreed her older brother, who plays ice hockey, might be an inspiration for her to try ice hockey later on.
“I know how to skate,” she said.
Brodie Hrapckuk said he was happy and excited by knowing that a local player had cracked Canada’s national hockey team.
Celebrations honouring Vey will continue early Thursday morning, when Canada’s men’s team plays its first game, against Switzerland, at 6:00 a.m. CST.
The town encourages residents to rise early to see the game, snap a selfie in their pyjamas and post the their photos to social media with the hashtag #SmallTownBigPride attached to it.
On Friday night, the town will host an all-ages viewing party for Canada’s game against the Czech Republic at 9 p.m. CST. The party will be at the Wakaw Rec Centre.
Admission to the party is free, and all money from food and bar sales will go to Wakaw Minor Hockey, as was requested by Vey.