The first hockey game played at the Vernon Civic Arena was an exhibition.
On Thursday, Jan. 6, 1938, the Civic Arena – “the only structure of its kind between Vancouver and the Kootenays that is equipped with artificial ice,” reads information from the arena’s grand opening program – played host to an exhibition between the Vancouver Lions, “the fastest team in the Pacific Coast Hockey League,” and the “heavier” Spokane Clippers, “at least 10 pounds heavier per man than the Lions, if not more.”
With the Civic Arena slated for demolition, possibly in 2018, the opening of the grand facility on 37th Avenue is being re-created, complete with a regulation B.C. Hockey League game.
The Vernon Vipers will take on the Prince George Spruce Kings in one last Civic Arena hurrah on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 – exactly 80 years to the day the facility opened. The event will also serve as a fundraiser for the organizer, North Okanagan Youth and Family Services Society (NOYFSS).
“We wanted to recognize the Civic Arena in its last year of operation,” said Dean Francks, director of business and fund development for NOYFSS.
Hockey, whether it be minor, junior or senior, has been the main tenant at the Civic Arena.
The Vernon Canadians won the 1956 Allan Cup Canadian Senior Hockey League championship under the Civic’s wooden rafters; the Vernon Lakers captured the Centennial Cup Canadian Junior Hockey title in front of an overflow crowd at the Civic in 1990. The Vernon Blades, Essos, Vikings, Canadians, Lakers and Vipers have all called the Civic Arena home in the B.C. Junior or B.C. Hockey League. It is the current home base for Greater Vernon Minor Hockey.
The Vipers moved to their current home, Kal Tire Place, when the new facility opened in 2001. Current Vipers head coach Mark Ferner never coached a team for an entire season in the Civic, but did guide the Vipers against the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Grande Prairie Storm – coached by former Vipers’ bench boss Mike Vandekamp – in the 2009 Doyle Cup B.C.-Alberta championship.
The first two games of the series were moved to Civic due to the Interior Logging Association’s annual show at Kal Tire Place.
“It was general seating, the place was packed. It was unreal,” said Ferner, whose late brother, Keith, was a goalie for the Vernon Vikings in the ‘70s. “The fans were right on top of you. You could hear everything that was said.”
Former Viper Aaron Volpatti, who played three seasons for Vandekamp and Bernie Pimm, took part in a couple of “blast from the past games” at Civic, including one against Prince George. And the same thing happened to Volpatti and the Vipers in 2005 as happened four years later. They had to move their home games in the B.C. Hockey League final against the eventual champion Surrey Eagles to the Civic because of the logging show.
“It was a lot different moving to Civic,” said Volpatti, who went on to play college hockey and had NHL stints with the Vancouver Canucks and Washington Capitals. He’s now an investment advisor in Vernon. “It was a lively atmosphere. The building was packed. Lots of contact. It was a very physical game in there.”
Volpatti, Brent Gilchrist, Jerred Smithson, Ed Johnstone and a number of other players representing Vernon minor hockey and junior teams will be honoured before the game.
Ferner plans to wear a fedora and a ‘30s-style suit behind the bench.
The Vipers will pay tribute to the Vancouver Lions. Their uniforms for the night will be cream coloured with maroon – same as the Lions – and there will be a big V on the front with “Vipers” spelled out on the letter. The uniform will have a Civic Arena patch on one shoulder and the Vipers’ patch will be on the other shoulder.
“They look sharp,” said Ferner.
The uniforms will be auctioned off online to the highest bidder (auction runs to the end of January) with proceeds from that and the sales of a re-created Civic Arena grand opening program going to NOYFSS programs.
Tickets for the special game will go on sale Monday at the Vipers’ ticket outlet. The game will be general seating. Seasons ticket holders will get first dibs at 4 p.m. on Jan. 6. The doors will open to the public at 5 p.m.
There will also be special entertainment during the intermissions.
“It’s going to be a sellout so we encourage everyone to get their tickets fast and come say goodbye to the Civic Arena,” said Francks.