It’s his love for the sport of hockey that has fuelled Mike Rispin to be a key volunteer for the Williams Lake Minor Hockey Association.
“It’s the old adage: ‘You couldn’t pay me enough to do this.’ And you couldn’t. You have to have a love for it,” said Rispin, the WLMHA’s current president who has been leading the association through the COVID-19 pandemic. “I love watching the kids, and watching hockey, but also dealing with problems, solving things and making things work.”
Rispin, whose day job is as the north region manager for ICBC, arrived in Williams Lake in 1991 where he soon began full-time employment on a what he thought would be a temporary position with BC Hydro.
Born in Vancouver in 1968, Rispin’s mom and dad moved to Calgary when he was just one year old. When his parents separated in 1973, Rispin lived with his grandparents in Priddis, Alta. — just outside Calgary — where he discovered the sport of hockey.
“Priddis was the only place in my life I actually played hockey,” Rispin said. “I played for one year. We were the Priddis Maple Leafs, and I was five years old.”
To this day, Rispin has kept his Priddis Maple Leafs jersey — his mom had it signed by none other than Mr. Hockey Gordie Howe — as a keepsake.
After bouncing around to several locations — including some time with his mom and step dad in Illinois and Kansas until he was 11, then back to Calgary with his dad until he was 17, and Vancouver until he was 23 — Rispin eventually found his way to the Cariboo looking to further his career with BC Hydro.
“I never did plan on staying here, but I liked the outdoor activities,” he said. “I love to boat and I love to fish.”
During his stint with BC Hydro in Williams Lake Rispin’s sister — who had gotten mixed up in a bad element in Vancouver — came to live with him at the request of his parents.
Needing a little extra cash to help support his sister, Rispin got a second job working security at Boitanio Mall which, unbeknownst to him, would be where he met his future wife, Shelley.
During his daily security patrols, Rispin would ride the escalator in what was then Woolco (now The Brick). Shelley worked at the jewellery department in Woolco, and Rispin would see her every day below while riding the escalator.
“I decided to approach her one time, so I made up an excuse that my watch band needed to be adjusted out,” he said. “I took it to her and as she was trying to get the pin out was about the time I asked her out for dinner. She flipped the pin and the pin went flying. We never did find it, but she put another pin in that fit, but the nubs stuck out, so it always reminded me of that first meeting.”
The pair married in 1996 and had two children — a daughter, Melissa, born in 1999, and a son, Derek, born in 2003.
“I wouldn’t have stayed if I hadn’t met Shelley,” Rispin said of his wife, who has worked at Surplus Herby’s for the past 26 years and is now the general manager.
“She is the best wife and mother a guy could ask for and I couldn’t do what I do for the community now without her support.”
Rispin’s foray into the world of hockey began with his sonwho started playing at the age of five and, later, with his daughter, who wanted to learn to skate so she could “beat her brother.”
“I loved watching my kids play,” he said. “Win, lose or draw. When I first put Derek on the ice, you open that gate and send those five year olds out, and they’re: step, step, fall. Then you see them start to develop, watch them learn and the smiles on their faces.”
Both his children played at the rep level within the WLMHA, with Derek now in the midst of his final U18 season.
“We didn’t put our kids in hockey because we were looking for scholarships, or an NHL career, or a retirement plan,” he said. “What I wanted was the opportunity for my kids to have something they could love for life, and they’ve gotten that.”
Rispin has volunteered in past seasons as the north central discipline co-ordinator with BC Hockey, and past president and vice-president of the WLMHA.
Through the pandemic, keeping players on the ice has been one of Rispin’s catch phrases. Rispin said it’s been an entire board effort within the WLMHA to keep things running as smoothly as possible this season.
“I want kids to play hockey, and I’m proud of my entire board for not taking that away,” he said. “We’ve maintained it to the best of our ability. I think I’m pretty good at crisis management and, in some ways, this is probably a great year for me to be president. I don’t mind getting in front of a crowd, but I also don’t think I’m the face of minor hockey.
“There is a huge, whack of people who make this all happen.”