He can’t quite recall exactly which year he first started volunteering with the Kimberley Dynamiters, but this year for the first time, Neil Rye was acknowledged by the Kootenay International Hockey League with the Volunteer of the Year Award, for his approximately three decades of dedication to the team.
Born and raised in Kimberley and a lifelong hockey fan, Rye, 50, figures his first year with the team was in 1993, back when they were the Junior A Dynamiters of the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League.
Rye has certainly been around for a lot, as Dynamiters moved through different leagues throughout the years, and secured numerous championships. As Nitros head coach/general manager Derek Stuart at the team’s 2021/22 awards ceremony, Rye has probably “been on more bus trips and eaten more pizza than any of us combined.”
“I don’t even think we have enough time to say all the things that he actually does day to day in the rink but I can just tell you that we would be severely screwed if he wasn’t a part of our team and a big part of our organizing everything and keeping the players in check,” Stuart said.
Rye was sick with a cold the day of the ceremony and couldn’t be there in person, but the announcement of his award was met with a huge round of applause. It’s clear he’s beloved by the team — its players, coaches, staff, the parents and all the other volunteers.
“Basically I didn’t know about it until, I was scrolling through the website and I go ‘wait a second’ that’s my picture,” Rye said of the award. “It was pretty exciting. I knew that I was appreciated already, it’s just making sure.”
Rye has numerous responsibilities at the rink on game day, from making the Gatorade and making sure the players and refs have their water bottles. In essence his role is simply to making sure things are run smoothly so the trainers and coaches have less to worry about.
Throughout all the years Rye said some of his favourite memories are when the team made it all the way to the Cyclone Taylor Cup. He hopes that next year they make it all the way to the Cyclone Taylor and that he’d love to see the Championship one day held in Kimberley.
This year the team came heartbreakingly close to making it to the Teck Cup, but after giving it all they had, they came up just short.
“Yeah it’s fun,” Rye said, when asked if he enjoys his work with the team, including all the long bus rides, which he said he actually looks forward to. “It was a good season [this year], but basically they ran into so many injuries that they just couldn’t go on.”
Rye added he was sad to see the season end the way it did, but a little happier now that Nelson, who Kimberley lost game seven to in double overtime, has been defeated by Revelstoke in round four of the playoffs.
Rye is not just a volunteer but a huge fan and supporter of the team, watching each game carefully, celebrating the wins and lamenting the defeats, and the players appreciate his steadfast presence.
“The kids are pretty good, they’re really friendly and they’re also quite thankful for myself and how I help out down there,” he said.
Rye didn’t actually grow up playing hockey, but skiing which he still does today. In round two of the playoffs, Rye really needed the Dynamiters to wrap up their series so that he wouldn’t miss his Special Olympics qualifying event.
At the interview with the Bulletin, Rye said that he actually just found out that he took third place in Giant Slalom and has a ribbon coming his way.
During hockey’s off season Rye works full time maintenance at Shadow Mountain Golf Course, and before that he worked for nearly 30 years at the Kimberley Golf Course, now known as Purcell.
Rye said he figures he will keep working for the team as long as he can, adding:
“They can’t get rid of me.”