It was a night of remembering, a night of debuts, but above all, it was a night to help out Hockey NWT.

The Explorer Hotel was the site for Hockey NWT’s inaugural fundraising gala on Oct. 15. Close to 150 people were in attendance to help raise money for the organization’s programming, along with getting a sneak peek at some new clothing and honouring those who have passed on for their contributions to the sport in the territory.

Kyle Kugler, Hockey NWT’s executive director, said this was the first time the organization had hosted something like this on its own.

“We did it on a bit of short notice, but I’m very proud of how it turned out,” he said.

The fundraising portion of the evening included both live and silent auctions. The live auction items included two ticket packages to see the Edmonton Oilers take on the Winnipeg Jets in Edmonton on Dec. 31. Canadian North provided return airfare for two, while Tod Ashton of Ashton Chartered Accountants and Stu Impett donated two tickets each for the game.

Jason Strudwick, left, and Jason Chimera share stories about their time in the National Hockey League during the hot stove portion of the evening. James McCarthy/NNSL photo

There was also some entertainment in the form of Jason Chimera and Jason Strudwick, two members of the Edmonton Oilers Alumni. They were in town as the guest coaches for the Oilers First Shift program, which hosted the first of six sessions at the Yk Community Arena earlier in the day.

The pair took part in a “hot stove” style discussion, where they took questions from the audience, ranging from their first game in the National Hockey League to how they got started in the sport.

Everyone in attendance got a look at the brand new uniforms the men’s and women’s hockey teams will be wearing at the Canada Winter Games this coming February in Charlottetown. The new-look jerseys were designed by Robbie Craig and Diana Curtis and feature a wolverine emerging from behind a hockey puck with the “W” in NWT carved out in claw-like fashion.

The logo has special meaning to James Williams, one of the assistant coaches for the men’s team. Before the reveal, he had no idea what it was going to look like, but when he saw it, he was taken aback.

And it all had to do with Tom Williams, his late father, who was the head coach of the 2007 Canada Winter Games men’s hockey team.

“Dad and I were having a talk before he passed and we started talking about reincarnation — what would you like to come back as?” he recalled. “He said an eagle at first, to be able to fly over everyone and see what’s going on. Then he said a marten and a wolf, but he settled on a wolverine. I asked him why a wolverine? He said because you don’t see them all the time.”

Cue the reveal. And cue Williams’ shock.

“I thought it was a grizzly bear at first, but then I looked at it some more, and I just got emotionally shocked,” he said. “It was so cool to see that and I was looking at my wife. There’s that sign that dad was there. Of all the animals, there was the wolverine. I always told him before he died that he should give us a sign — let us know you’re there. And there he was.”

Kyle Kugler, left, Hockey NWT’s executive director, and Darcy Milkowski, right, present Kim Knutson, wife of the late Craig Hockridge, with one of his jerseys during Hockey NWT’s fundraising gala at the Explorer Hotel on Saturday, Oct. 15. James McCarthy/NNSL photo

Tribute to referee

A total of four jerseys were revealed, all of which were promptly put up on the live auction block by Mark Scholz, the evening’s MC, and all four went for a total of $1,000. They were split into two parts: two jerseys with no. 20 and the other two with no. 23. Williams and his wife bought the no. 20 jerseys for $500.

“Dad would have told me to pay for it, no matter the amount,” said Williams. “He was such a huge supporter of kids playing sports and the money is going to help kids do just that.”

The late Craig Hockridge was honoured with a jersey retirement of sorts. The longtime hockey official and former referee-in-chief of Hockey North died in June 2020 after suffering a stroke, and Hockey NWT showed its appreciation by framing one of his old uniforms.

Kim Knutson, Hockridge’s wife, was on hand for the presentation and simply said her late husband would have loved the honour.

“He loved officiating and he’s here watching this with us,” she said.

Kugler said the permanent spot for Hockridge’s uniform hasn’t yet been decided.

“We’re going to talk with Kim and figure that out,” he said. “It’s probably going to be at either the Ed Jeske (Olympic Arena) or the Multi-Sport Training Facility.”

Two more such events like this are planned for 2023 and 2024, Kugler added, and the next two will happen each September to coincide with the annual National Coaches’ Week celebrations.

“We’ll look to plan some coaching development courses that week and with the bigger window we’ll have, we’ll try and make this a bigger event,” he said.

James McCarthy

I've been hanging around the office as the sports editor for the better part of the last 16 years. In August 2022, NNSL Media decided to promote me to the managing editor's position, which I accepted after...

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