Saskatchewan has a special place in Jay Onrait’s heart. Not only was Saskatchewan the place where Onrait began his highly successful career in sports media, it is also the place where he has plenty of childhood memories.
Onrait grew up in the town of Athabasca, Alta. but spent a lot of time in small town Saskatchewan as a kid. Onrait’s parents are originally from Balcarres and growing up, Onrait would often find himself in Saskatchewan visiting his grandparents from both sides of the family.
“I always love coming to small town Saskatchewan.” Onrait says. “I spent a lot of my youth traveling back to small town Saskatchewan in the summertime to visit grandparents and relatives. I just love being in the 306 area code. It’s always a good feeling, and I’ve always been welcomed and embraced in Saskatchewan. We’ve done so many different things, so I’m really looking forward to getting to Kinistino and having a terrific night. It’s going to be a great one.”
Onrait began his on-air career in Saskatoon in 1998 with Global and has since gone on to become one of the most recognizable voices in sports broadcasting across Canada. Onrait will be the featured guest speaker at the Hockey Day in Saskatchewan banquet in Kinistino on Friday evening.
Onrait says he is looking forward to making the night memorable for anyone in attendance.
“I love any banquets. I’m a huge banquet guy. Everyone in Saskatchewan takes pride in any of the players who come from the province and the teams in the SJHL and the WHL. I’m really looking forward to getting on stage and talking a little bit about my career and to talk a little bit about the sport and just in general, having a really great night and celebrating Hockey Saskatchewan and everything that they’ve accomplished over the past year.
“It’s going to be so much fun. I’m going to talk to anyone who wants to chat. I’ll take pictures with anybody who wants to take pictures. We’ll have a terrific night into the wee hours of the morning and at the end of the night,when they add up all the receipts, we’ve made a nice chunk of change that will go to the arena. It’s just extremely gratifying to not only have a chance to meet some people in person and talk to some people who watch me on a night-to-night basis or have watched me over the course of my career, but also contribute in some small way to helping a community like Kinistino continue to have a great place for hockey players to play of all ages.”
Hockey Day in Saskatchewan was founded in 2008 when the town of Unity raised over $20,000. Since then, more than fifteen towns across the province have gotten to host and have raised funds to improve arenas across the province.
According to the Hockey Day in Saskatchewan website, one of the goals of the event is to “By uniting with the surrounding communities, Hockey Day in Saskatchewan aims to generate the necessary funds to help construct, upgrade or rebuild local arenas, leaving a lasting legacy for future generations of hockey enthusiasts.”
Onrait says he is proud to be able to speak at an event which helps support the grassroots movement in hockey.
“That’s the fundamental foundation of the sport in our country. I know there’s always more and more sophisticated ways to train kids to play hockey (with) hockey schools and all that. Ultimately, the crux of the sport is small towns in our country, kids playing in these small towns and learning the way that I learned.
“I’m living in the big city now, and it’s not that different. I just took my five year old son for skating lessons yesterday and I was just saying to my wife, when we were at the rink in downtown Toronto it looked exactly like the rink I grew up with in small town Alberta and probably not that different from the rink in Kinistino. I love that everybody in our country kind of starts that way.”
During his time with TSN, Onrait traveled across the country as part of the Kraft Celebration Tour that donated funds to various community projects across Canada.
“The Saskatchewan stops were the most fun.” Onrait recalled. “It wasn’t just that the people were amazing, it was that you could tell they truly were embracing this opportunity that we had given them and Kraft had given them. Not only to get this money from Kraft, usually to improve the arena or sports facility.
“It was just such an amazing thing to be able to do. This Hockey Day banquet in Kinistino is so similar. I sincerely appreciate Hockey Saskatchewan, inviting me and having an interest in having me come out and meet everybody.”
Doors open for the banquet at 5 p.m. with the supper and Onrait’s speech to begin at 6 p.m.