For more than 80 years, the Williams Lake Stampeders have been the face of community hockey in the lakecity.
Dating back to the team’s official formation as a member of the Cariboo Hockey League in 1936, the Stampeders have played host to generations of local men’s players and have been one of the preeminent forms of entertainment in the city since.
Fans of the hometown team — through its various incarnations — have continued to support it over the years up to the present day, where the team thrives as a member of the Central Interior Hockey League — a BC Hockey-sanctioned senior men’s ‘AA’ league alongside other teams including the Terrace River Kings, the Quesnel Kangaroos, the Prince Rupert Rampage and the Kitimat Ice Demons.
Current Stampeders president Marko Zurak, who’s been involved with the team in one fashion or another since 1999, said it’s no fluke the team has seen such longevity.
With a formula focusing on showcasing local talent, providing fan interaction, having a solid volunteer base and garnering strong community support from both the business community and Williams Lake’s residents, the team regularly sees crowds of 500 to 800 spectators in attendance at its home games within the confines of the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex.
“It’s always been the fans, the volunteers and the players, themselves,” Marko said of how the team has remained a staple in the community.
“We try to push as many local players as possible, and they’ve been faithful as can be to us. They all have jobs, families, but secure time off when they can for our schedule.”
Originally members of the Cariboo Hockey League in 1936, the Stampeders played alongside teams from Prince George, Vanderhoof, Lac La Hache, Canim Lake, Quesnel, Wells and Soda Creek. Teams competed for what was then known as the Wailer Cup — a trophy signifying senior hockey supremacy in the Central Interior of B.C.
The team has seen many highs, and some lulls over the years, however, has always bounced back.
In March of 2018, the Williams Lake Stampeders will play host to what’s now the Coy Cup Senior Men’s ‘AA’ Provincial Championship, hosting qualifying teams from throughout the province in the lakecity for a five-day tournament from March 27-31.
The Stampeders are two-time champions (back to back in 2013 and 2014) and hope to once again reclaim the prestigious crown — originally donated to BC Hockey by the 50th Gordon Highlanders Regiment of Victoria and presented for the first time in 1922.
“When we hosted in 2014, the fans were unbelievable,” Marko said. “We had sellout crowds the whole tournament. We had unbelievable support and we’re hoping to have the same thing again.”
With some of the team’s core roster having been with the team since the late 90s, Stampeders fans in Williams Lake have had recognizable faces to cheer for year after year.
Current players including Francis Johnson, Aaron Zurak, Stu Sasges, among several others, have been part of the fabric of the team drawing community support for years. The league, meanwhile, is composed of a wealth of players who have played university, college, CHL, junior ‘A’ and junior ‘B’ hockey over the years giving fans an entertaining brand of hockey.
Last year’s 2016/17 roster fielded four players in the top-10 in league scoring including Nathan Zurak (first, 14GP, 23G, 16A, 39PTS), Jassi Sangha (second, 11GP, 6G, 29A, 35PTS), David Gore (sixth, 10GP, 8G, 18A, 26PTS) and Andrew Fisher (ninth, 16GP, 12G, 12A, 24PTS).
But Marko said it truly is the fans, the volunteers and businesses who support the team time and time again who continue to make things tick.
“You can’t say enough about any one of those groups,” he said. “Without them we wouldn’t be able to make it work. We work as a unit and I think that’s why we’ve been able to have such success.”
With Stampeders alumni now parked in the seats of the CMRC, a younger generation is taking the reins as the team forges ahead.
“It’s good to see those guys at the games,” Marko said. “And it’s always great to see the younger players come in. Without that we can’t continue, either.”
The Stampeders executive is currently in the process of organizing this year’s Coy Cup and will be needing volunteers to help make the five-day event a success.
If anyone is interested in helping out they can contact executive members Karen Gertzen (250-395-4120) or Janna Gertzen (250-305-9788), or drop by the Stampeders booth during a home game at the CMRC for more information.