This year’s edition of ‘Pink the Rink’, an annual Kootenay Ice game that helps fundraise for and promote anti-bullying initiatives, comes at a big time for the city of Cranbrook.
Rogers Hometown Hockey is in town all weekend with NHL alumni Theo Fleury, Rob and Scott Niedermayer, and Kirk McLean joining broadcast hosts Ron MacLean and Tara Slone on Baker Street for a celebration of community hockey.
The Ice will make an appearance at the event, signing autographs from 3 to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
“It’s really cool to have that here,” said goalie Payton Lee, the team’s lone Cranbrook-native. “I know when I was younger, we had a Kraft Hockeyville event here too. That was pretty cool, so it should be the same.
“[It] would be really cool [to meet some of the people visiting here]. Anytime you get to meet ex-NHLers, it’s pretty fun, so hopefully we’ll get to see them around the rink.”
As for Pink the Rink, Lee is excited not only to help a good cause, but also hopefully to get a boost from an excited crowd.
“Any time we can put on an event to support something like this, it’s pretty special,” he said. “ It’ll be good for us to put in a good effort and support the cause and have some pink.
“[A big, noisy crowd] is what we need right now, to get the kids in the building and play hard for them. It’ll give us a bit of a jump.”
The Pink the Rink event, which began in 2013, invites students from all Cranbrook schools to come to the game and wear pink as a stand against bullying and to show support for acceptance of all kinds of people.
Tonight, the Ice will host the Saskatoon Blades for the special night and will fundraise for anti-bullying initiatives in schools by selling pink pucks which will be thrown on the ice towards the centre dot for a chance to win prizes.
“I think it’s a great cause to promote, especially in schools,” said Ice captain, Cale Fleury. “It’s something that some kids go through and they shouldn’t have to.”
For Lee, the cause is one that is close to his heart.
“I had a friend’s brother get bullied when I was younger and had to deal with it,” the goalie said. “I’m sure it’s affected everyone in some way or another, so it’s definitely a cause worth promoting.”
Lee said that he tries to use his position as someone that kids look up to set a good example.
“If you ever see anybody doing anything that you would consider bullying, you can step in and say that’s not acceptable,” he said. “[I] just try and be a good positive role model for all the kids in the neighbourhood.”
In their dressing room, Lee believes that they strive to have as inclusive an environment as possible.
“Our team is like a family and anytime something happens, everybody supports each other,” he said. “It’s definitely a great support system and we try not to bully each other.
“Obviously, there are some guys that you might not get along with, but at the end of the day, it’s a team atmosphere and anywhere in life, no matter where you’re working or what you’re doing, there are some people you won’t like, but you’ve got to work with them.”
Fleury hopes that kids will look at the team and see a great opportunity to find inclusiveness by participating in sports.
“When I was a kid growing up playing sports, most of my friends were on my team or teams I played against,” he said. “It’s a good way to make friends, so I think kids could look at our team and see that most of the guys on the team are pretty tight.”
The game, and other similar events, help bring their jobs into perspective according to Lee. While he clarifies that winning is important to all of them, these moments help them see the bigger picture.
“[It helps you] take a step back and think about how lucky you really are,” Lee said. “When you realize you’re bringing some happiness to kids around the community, it makes you feel good.”
Puck drop is at 7 p.m. and all fans are encouraged to wear pink to show support for the cause.