Vipers feel Cup vibe in rockin’ Dauphin

Arrived in Dauphin for the Royal Bank Cup Friday afternoon. It was raining so hard I thought I was back living on Vancouver Island. Fortunately for me, the people of this tiny Manitoba city are much more hospitable than the current weather conditions (I heard rumours of snow on the weekend).

Mike Collins

Arrived in Dauphin for the Royal Bank Cup Friday afternoon. It was raining so hard I thought I was back living on Vancouver Island. Fortunately for me, the people of this tiny Manitoba city are much more hospitable than the current weather conditions (I heard rumours of snow on the weekend).

After spending half a day travelling with the Vernon Vipers to get here, my billets, Michelle and Martin Kaminski, offered to pick me up at the Super 8 where the defending RBC Cup champs are staying and took me straight to the rink to give me the grand tour of Credit Union Place. It’s a gorgeous modern recreation complex with a curling rink and pool, plus a twin ice sheet across the parking lot.

“It’s kind of like Quesnel a little bit, nicer rink of course,” said Viper forward Connor Jones, as he watched his teammates take in a light skate Friday night. “But it’s rainy everywhere and real gloomy.

“Most of the guys would agree, I think they’d play anywhere if it meant playing for a national championship… even in a back yard somewhere.”

The thing that struck me first as I toured around the facilities with Michelle and Martin was no matter who we ran into, they were on a first-name basis, and they always had a smile. Keep in mind these people have never met me before, and the Kaminskis in particular have offered to open up their home to me during my stay here. An admirable act of kindness (and trust) to a complete stranger.

The thing I remember thinking before I got into town was “How can this possibly compare with last year’s RBC in Victoria?” A place where the players got to stay at a super-posh hotel on a swanky golf resort; a place with, let’s face it, a lot more going on than Dauphin. Their answer – kill ‘em with kindness. This little city appears to have rallied around this event wholeheartedly, and for all Victoria’s splendour, it can’t compete with the small-town vibe Dauphin has got going on.

Randy Daley and his wife, Kit, are co-chairing the host organization committee, and they deserve much of the credit for that. Ever since they offered to take on that role back in the fall of 2007, they have been at the epicentre of more than 300 volunteers working tirelessly at making sure this show goes off seamlessly.

All I can say is, so far so good. It all got underway Friday night as each of the five teams – the host Dauphin Kings, Brockville Braves (eastern champs), Oakville Blades (central), La Ronge Ice Wolves (western) and Vipers (pacific) – were introduced at the opening ceremonies held in the curling rink, which also will double as the Countryfest Cabaret/Saloon at night.

“The last three days I can’t believe the amount of work that’s been done here – physical work,” said Randy, who works as an employability trainer. “Taking the whole plan off of paper and putting it into reality, that show (opening ceremonies) that we just put on, how does that happen physically? The start of the production and all the fine details have got worked out and been put into play… that took a tremendous amount of effort and a lot of people. Heckuva job.”

As hosts, the Kings were the last team to be ushered out for the opening ceremonies. All the players were probably a little shocked to find themselves in the midst of a booming pyrotechnics show worthy of a rock concert shortly after (in a fairly enclosed area no less). That was followed up by a slice of local culture as a local Ukrainian dance group put on quite a show.

“It was definitely unexpected. I still can’t hear,” said Jones, shortly after the ceremonies. “I loved the (Ukrainian) dancing.”

Randy is hoping the RBC will be another step towards further establishing Dauphin as a hub city for the local area, which he refers to as the Parkland Region (he estimates about 45,000 people live in that area). But he admits the city just barely met the accommodation requirements to qualify as an RBC host. After scrambling for a week to find a place to stay, I can vouch for that firsthand.

“If we’re going to keep doing this, we’re going to need more hotels,” said Randy, who went to Victoria last May to check out their operation. “It’s good for people in this area to realize there is a need.”

Regarding the community involvement in the RBC, Randy isn’t overly surprised by the positive response.

“The community really gets behind stuff like this and it’s exciting for them, and it’s our first crack at a national (tournament),” he said. “We’re pretty much the only show in town. The fever is going pretty strong here because we’re fortunate enough that the Kings are not only hosting, but they won their league and then they won the ANAVET Cup. That was a week ago, so everybody is still ready to rock ‘n’ roll.”