Viper head coach Mark Ferner resembled a 1938 gangster in his stylish chapeau. His players wore replica jerseys as did the Vancouver Lions exactly 80 years to the day Civic Arena opened.
Even the B.C. League referees and linesman looked the part in oldtime non-striped sweaters, while the intermission skaters wore perfect era fashions.
The fancy skaters and hockey game were likely much faster than they were at the 1938 Civic Arena grand opener, earning major applause from a standing-room-only crowd of 2,100.
The game served as a fundraiser for the North Okanagan Youth and Family Services (NOYFSS) and organizer Dean Francks of the organization said the total hit $23,048 as of Monday at noon. There are still the proceeds from the online auction of the Vipers’ game-worn jerseys to come. Jerseys can be bid on until Jan. 15 at auctionokanagan.com. Goalie Ty Taylor’s jersey was already up to $300 as of Monday. Taylor is an NHL prospect.
“It was all positive feedback, bittersweet,” said Francks. “It’s probably time for the old building to go but we gave it a proper sendoff. It was awesome, crazy exciting. The whole town was buzzing before the day. You can’t write the perfect script; it would have been nice to get a win, but what the heck.
“I’m so happy, personally, how it went off. It was how I envisioned it. We tried to re-create the grand opener from 1938, everything from the fancy skating which is now figure skating. I thought the Vernon Figure Skating Club did a great job in between periods. The Vipers were awesome: total buy-in. Ferns (Ferner) looked great with his chapeau on. I think we did a good job re-creating the way it was. The crowd was loud and everybody had a good time.”
The $5 commemorative program included photos from the past and a full-page retro ad from Watkin Motors proclaiming their two new Ford V-8 cars. There was a copy of the original Vernon News story on the $50,000 Civic Arena, the only structure of its kind with artificial ice surface in the Interior. Vernon minor hockey grad and longtime Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland wrote a thank-you letter, saying “Civic Arena gave me the opportunity to pursue my dream and my passion.”
There was a VIP area in the south end of the rink which included longtime Viper owner Duncan Wray and a dozen players and coaches who had ties to the arena and were introduced on the red carpet before the ceremonial faceoff handled by former NHLer Brent Gilchrist. Others were Eddie Johnstone, Eric Godard, Jerred Smithson Gary Gilchrist, Aaron Volpatti, Troy Mick, Duane Dennis, Dennis Holland, Odie Lowe and Terry Lowe. Servers in the corner bar wore dresses from 1938.
“One of the highlights for me was the introduction of the 12 guys,” said Francks, who gave major props to the 32 volunteers from NOYFSS and another 36 from the Vipers. “To see Odie Lowe out there at 90 was awesome, and seeing Dennis representing the Holland family was special. We grew up here and they were staples in that rink.”
The Spruce Kings won the game 3-2 as the Vernon franchise bid farewell to its ancestral home, on a controversial goal late in the second period. The Vipers have called the much bigger Kal Tire Place home since 2001.
“That was quite a night,” said BCHL commissioner John Grisdale, a former Vancouver Canuck and Toronto Maple Leaf defenceman. “Interestingly enough, Vernon played Surrey in this rink in 2005 (final series) and there was a controversial goal disallowed in that series.”
Grisdale noted the long history of hockey in several rinks around the province.
“One of the things that is really neat is that hockey goes back so far and we have a number of historic facilities like this. We’ve got the old rink in Penticton and one in Trail. There was some great hockey played in those barns.”
The Vipers and Spruce Kings shook hands afterwards and got together for a group photograph.
“Prince George general manager Mike Hawes came up and said the organization was super excited to be a part of it,” said Francks, director of business and fund development for NOYFSS. “They were very respectful and said the atmosphere was electric.”
Viper star forward Jimmy Lambert, who almost forced overtime as the Vipers pressed hard to level the score in the final seconds, loved the retro experience.
“It was amazing, from the moment we stepped out there for warmup, the fans were loud and I really enjoyed playing in the last game in the Civic Arena. everyone’s going to have some great memories from tonight.”
It was certainly a throwback night for Vernon’s Ron Howard, who was nearly seven when he joined his dad, Dale, for the Vancouver-Spokane senior game 80 years ago to the day.
“It was a good game,” said Howard, who sat in the south-end bleachers Saturday. “Just a few breaks, but that’s hockey.”
Howard, who turns 87 on Jan. 21, is a father of four with 19 grandchildren and six great grandchildren. He played minor hockey and was a rink rat, and later an usher, at senior games at Civic.
“It was a great night, but sad. I hate to see the old building go down. I got to see it go up so I don’t really want to watch it come down.”
Howard, who worked for Pioneer Sash & Door and Howrie Millworks back in the day, lived a few blocks away from the arena.
“I took a lot of interest in the building of the arena. My dad took me over to watch them build it and he promised to take me to the first game there. It was a wonderful place.”
Before Civic Arena was around, Howard and friends would skate at Cools Pond in the BX and Bluebush Pond above Becker Park.
The next fundraiser for NOYFSS is a 54.40 concert – The Unplugged Tour – Saturday, Feb. 17 at the Vernon & District Performing Arts Theatre. There are 80 tickets remaining.
NOYFSS is a registered, non-profit, charitable organization that has been serving families of the North Okanagan since 1974. It provides counselling and support services to individuals and families through a variety of community based and residential programs. NOYFSS is committed to removing barriers for individuals with (and not limited to) physical/mental/developmental issues, sensory issues, poverty and language/cultural needs.