La Ronge Ice Wolves hungry to turn season around
by Terry Villeneuve
After missing the SJHL playoffs their first six seasons, from 1998-99 to 2003-04, the La Ronge Ice Wolves have had much success ever since.
The club has had winning records in seven of the last eight seasons, highlighted by two back-to-back league championships in 2009-10 and 2010-11.
This year however, the community-owned team is struggling as they currently sit in last place in the Bauer Division with only seven wins and 17 losses.
On Nov. 14, the league-leading Yorkton Terriers skated to a 6-3 victory at the Mel Hegland Uniplex against the hometown Ice Wolves.
“We had a pretty good start tonight – up 2-0 early in the first period,” stated Ice Wolves coach Bob Beatty. “We’re obviously disappointed. We need to come together in a hurry and make some noise. And the guys know every game counts from now until the Christmas break.”
The 2012-13 campaign began mediocre for the Ice Wolves as they had a two-win, three-loss record for September, but when October hit, they lost all 10 games that month – six were decided by one-goal margins and three were shootout losses.
When they turned the page to the month of November, things changed. After 11 games, the Ice Wolves are playing below .500 hockey and with three wins and eight losses.
“We have a handful of returning veterans this year, but we also have 14 new players in the lineup,” added Beatty.
One of those veteran players is 19-year-old defenceman Franklin Cook of Southend.
“It’s my second full year with the team,” he said. “I first joined the team as an AP player at the end of the 2010-11 season.”
Cook played his early pre-novice, novice and atom hockey in Southend.
“Because we couldn’t start until the end of November or early December back home at our outdoor rink, our parents took us to tournaments in Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Nipawin. There were about eight of us and I basically stayed on for the whole game,” Cook said.
Moving to Prince Albert at age 12, Cook then suited up for the PeeWee AA squad and then played Bantam AA the next two years.
“Then in my third year of Midget, I made the AAA Beardy’s Blackhawks team and then from there I was called up to La Ronge,” he said.
Considered the hometown kid, Cook’s supporters from Southend drive the three-hour trip regularly for every home game.
“The school sometimes sends 75-100 kids – I guess I’m a role model for them. Whenever I’m home (in the winter), I take the little kids out to learn them how to skate. Hopefully this helps to keep them out of trouble,” he added.
Playing for the Ice Wolves has a special place for the Cook family.
“My dad (Franklin Sr.) played Jr. B in La Ronge. When I made the team, it was just unbelievable. He wanted me to be here so bad and he was so proud of me.”
Another second-year player on the Ice Wolves roster is 18-year-old Jared Iron from Canoe Lake Cree Nation.
He started out at the WHL Vancouver Giants camp in August, but was released in time for the beginning of the SJHL season.
In the Nov. 14 clash with Yorkton, midway through the second period, Iron left the game with a lower-body injury.
“I’m pretty sure I rolled my ankle when one of their guys fell on me,” he said. “It’s a bad sprain and I’ll probably be out of the lineup for the next few games.”
Iron, who tallied 20 points in 48 games last season, also has family and community members follow him regularly.
“A lot of people from home come here when we play and just as many go to North Battleford when we play there, because it’s closer,” he said.
Billet coordinator Cathy Azzopardi, one of nine executive members, has followed the team since it was founded in 1998.
“I’ve had season tickets since day one,” she said. “And I got on the executive to get more involved. I find homes for the boys. We have a roster of 25, so we need 25 beds. It’s a bit stressful in the summer lining things up, but most are repeat billets.”
Azzopardi also commented on the size of the crowd Nov. 14.
“This is a mid-week game and weather outside is cold,” she said. “And we may be tiny, but we’re loud. It’s also one of the few family things to do in town.”
Heading up the board of directors is Terry Helary, who has been the club’s president the last five years.
“Our main role is to ensure we have the finances necessary to operate and to field a competitive team,” he said. “Our yearly budget is around $600,000 with ice time, travel and billeting being the main factors.”
Helary first got involved with the team because he enjoys the game.
“It’s also great for the community and Northerners as a whole,” he added.
The Nov. 14 crowd doesn’t have the numbers it usually does.
“Our arena capacity is 1,200 but we’re pretty low tonight. We would like to see it full for every game, but our average so far this season is between 500-600,” he said.
He says community support continues to be strong.
“Cooperation between the three – Town of La Ronge, Village of Air Ronge and the Lac La Ronge Indian Band – who all put up the money to have it community-owned and put together a volunteer board, has been great,” Helary said. “We’re all volunteers. Only the coaching staff is paid. Even our office personnel are volunteers.”
One thing Helary is proud of is seeing Northerners on the team.
“We’ve had quite a few kids from the North over the years,” he said. “Hopefully we’ve given something for Northern kids to shoot for.”