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By Arielle Zerr


Whether or not you like hockey, in Saskatchewan, you can’t escape it.


Take a drive around any city or a small town and, before long, you’ll find someone playing our game. It’s sewn into the fabric of Saskatchewan, just like our weather is.


The province’s frigid temperatures mean hockey rinks indoor or out are active close to six months a year and everyone can find ice to play. Darrell Davis, author of Fire on Ice: Why Saskatchewan Rules the NHL believes that’s why so many great players come from this relatively small place.


In Saskatchewan, you would be hard pressed to find a small town that doesn’t have a rink. That rink is almost always the centre of activity for the whole town.


“When you watch Jarret Stoll bring the Stanley Cup back to Neudorf and Yorkton you realize he did all the hard work, but (the community) helped him and supported him along the way. Saskatchewan kids are special in that way, they really appreciate their heritage,” says Davis.


And the province has been blessed with the presence of Lord Stanley five times in the last five years from players like Stoll, Ryan Getzlaf and Chris Kunitz. The Cup’s frequent visits make sense given Saskatchewan provides more players per capita to the NHL than any other place in the world.


Saskatchewan’s population is 1.1 million. With 43 active players in the NHL right now, that’s about one player for every 26,000 people. In comparison, Quebec boasts one player for every 150,000 people and Manitoba, whose population is similar to Saskatchewan, just one for every 40,000.


Those numbers can all be traced back to that rink the players grew up in.


“If you don’t have (the rink) in a small town, you don’t have that camaraderie, the gathering place … When you talk to the kids that grew up in the small towns, the NHL players, they remember being at the rink constantly and all the people that were there and helped them,” Davis says.


Kelly McClintock, the general manager of the Saskatchewan Hockey Association says that in small towns the rink gets everyone in the community involved in hockey.


“I think that especially is the big difference between Regina and Saskatoon and the small town … (Players) see what it means to have the community working together,” he said.


Growing up players may not have only skated at the rink, they may have worked at the concession, cleaned up the locker rooms and worked alongside the other adults in the community, McClintock said.


“It creates a good work ethic and a loyalty to the community and the rink,” he added.


That loyalty is paid off in spades when another Saskatchewan kid wins the Stanley Cup and brings it back to the community that gave them their start. For fans young and old, a date with hockey’s biggest award is only a car ride away.


And even if Saskatchewan hockey players never skate on professional ice, they often play well into adulthood.


“They love the game,” says Davis. “They grew up not playing because they were told to play by their parents … they played because they wanted to play.”


McClintock says Saskatchewan has more senior teams than the rest of the country combined. “That’s small town hockey … your dad played, your grandfather played, your uncles and your cousins played … It’s certainly a real fabric of the small town.


That mentality has kept registration levels high in Saskatchewan. McClintock says that registration in Saskatchewan has remained at about the same level for the past ten years. According to Hockey Canada, in 2001-02, there were 31,000 kids registered in hockey across the province. Ten years later in 2011-12 nearly 37,000 youth play hockey. This bucks the national trend of decreased registration numbers.


“The safety factor does scare some kids away … but it hasn’t changed that much,” says Davis. “In the United States the best athletes go to baseball, football, basketball, sometimes golf, but in Canada the best athletes are drawn towards hockey because it’s ours.”