Kowal relives High River

Vernon's Tom Kowal says town of High River, Alta. still in recovery mode after devastating June flood.

Tom Kowal and his teenage son Troy were helping put sandbags near the Highwood River on the morning of June 20.

They worked until almost the dinner hour alongside hundreds of other High River residents trying to save their town from flooding.

Four people died and 94 per cent of the homes were damaged.

“We live a long ways from the river and I thought it would never get to us,” said Kowal, an NHL referee born and raised in Vernon. “It was a long day. We helped out until about four and we were evacuated at eight. The water had to go up 30 feet to get our place and we lost everything. We’re looking at a $160,000 rebuild.”

A 100-year-old piano, which Tom’s wife, Alaine, got from her grandmother, was washed away. Tom retrieved parts of the piano and hopes to make a bench or table.

“We got ‘er pretty good,” said Tom. “Hopefully by Christmas, we’ll have the basement finished. It’s just walls and studs now. It was devastating for the city. They haven’t even starting rebuilding downtown. We did have 13,000 people living here; now there’s 7,000.”

The Kowals, and their three kids, lived with friend and former NHL linesman Lyle Seitz and his family in nearby Okotoks for five weeks before getting back into their own home.

Tom says there is still a hostility phase around High River, but he believes the horrific day will bring the people closer given time.

Kowal worked the Flames-Oilers split squad game Saturday night in Calgary to open his pre-season. He just spent six days in Collingwood, Ont. at a league training camp (66 NHL officials and eight minor leaguers).

Before the camp, Kowal spent four days in Salzburg, Austria, helping Seitz by supervising two games in the Erste Banke Ice Hockey League.

“We did two days in the classroom, working on stuff like positioning and judgement,” said Kowal, who turns 46 on Nov. 2.

Seitz is director of hockey operations for the Austrian pro league, and is trying to clean up the embellishment by many players.

Kowal has been an NHL referee since the 1999-2000 season. He wears No. 32.

Jamaican player signs with Blazers

Jermaine Loewen was one of more than 50,000 orphans in Jamaica.

Now he wants to be the second person born in the Caribbean island nation to play in the National Hockey League. The WHL Kamloops Blazers signed Loewen on Friday.

“I always thought maybe I’d be some guy living in the streets,” said Loewen, one of the Blazers’ most tantalizing prospects, drafted in Round 3 of the Bantam draft in May, to Marty Hastings of Kamloops This Week.

“All of a sudden, I find myself playing hockey at 10 and playing triple A at 11 or 12 (in Manitoba). People didn’t think that was really possible.

“I was like, ‘If you don’t think it’s possible, I’m going to prove it to you.’”

The 15-year-old’s journey to Arborg, Man., from an orphanage in May Pen, Jamaica, began 12 years ago. Stan and Tara Loewen travelled to the children’s home on a two-week Christian mission with no intention of adopting.

Since adopting Jermaine, the Loewens have expanded by two — welcoming a sister, six-year old Makeda from Ethiopia, and a brother, four-year-old Nathanael from Jamaica.

Graeme Townshend was the first and only Jamaican-born player to lace up his skates in the NHL. He played 45 games with three teams.

Chipper moving back to Vernon

They affectionately call him Chipper and he’s headed back home to Vernon.

Mark Ciupka, who worked as pro at Predator Ridge, Spallumcheen and Vernon golf clubs, has been in Coquitlam for the last several years.

The left-side hitter and his wife, Twyla, and their young daughter, will be moving to Vernon later this month.

“I’ll still be working for Telus in Kelowna. I’m not playing much golf these days, but hoping to change that back in Vernon,” said Chipper. “I’ll need some practice first.”

Chipper and former area golf pro Scotty Cameron are brothers-in-law.

Still with golf, former Vernonite Jackie Little fought gale-force winds and torrential rains this week in the Irish Senior Women’s Open.

Little shot 82-89-80-251 for a five-way share of fifth place.

Ireland’s Gertie McMullen fired a final round 79 Friday to defeat Canada’s Diane Williams by four strokes to win the strokeplay title at Castlerock Golf Club.