Moments that Matter

High in the Sky Photo of Northern Classic by Dan Lines

Normally when I write a blog post things kind of weave together nicely. But looking back on the Northern Classic experience there are many random moments that don't necessarily fit together yet still capture a piece of the picture. I'm going to try and crystallize a few of those today in Moments that Matter.
  • We knew we wanted to tie-in the United Way to the event, but we didn't necessarily know how. "When does the campaign wrap-up?" I asked back in late August. "Does the campaign end sync up with the game?" That question followed by an affirmative answer resulted in the idea of having the NorAlta Figure Skating Club do an intermission performance as the announcement of the final total. Who could have possibly imagined that the number would be $6,375,000? Vision to reality. Beautiful! Unfortunately, I was dealing with a medical emergency, so I missed a good portion of the presentation. But off in the distance I heard Diane Shannon's narration, telling the story of the United Way and how together, we change lives. That was a moment that mattered.

  • As Mayor Blake, Councillors Scott, Germain, Allen and I waited adjacent to the player's bench with several visiting MLA's from around the province during the pre-game ceremonies, I leaned over and asked "Who is that at centre ice talking?" Turns out it was Patrick LaForge, President and CEO of the Edmonton Oilers. Having him connected to our game was special. The reason he was on the ice, along with AJHL President Craig Cripps, was to spring something truly special on Oil Barons Coach Gord Thibodeau. Turns out the Northern Classic was to be his 1,000th game behind the bench in the league. Obviously caught off guard, perhaps a little shocked, Gord took it in stride and kept his remarks brief: "This is a surprise. I am touched. But, we're here to play a game, so let's get this thing started!" That was a moment that mattered.

  • They decided to fill up the south bleachers first before allowing people up into the north side. I'm still not sure why that decision was made, but perhaps it was to take advantage of the penguin effect, of maximizing available body heat. In any case, by 5 pm even the north bleachers were almost full as Mike Plume hit the stage. Mike has a strong and very personal connection to Fort McMurray, and by extension to our home. He was dear friends with the Dorie family who sold us their house back in 1999. Apparently Mike would come over and write music in the motorcycle shop (now a carpentry shop) in the back. We've had him at interPLAY a number of times over the years. When he launched into a rollicking song about Fort McMurray and oil sands it felt like those bleachers were bouncing up and down to the rhythm of the music. That was a moment that mattered.

  • One of the things that stands out for me in looking back on the Northern Classic journey was watching the people behind the scenes battle through a gargantuan set of challenges. This was not easy to pull off and anyone who tells you different is lying. On the Events Wood Buffalo side, Claude, Jenn and Pavlina were trying to balance the rigors of this enormous event with obligations to the Santa Parade, The Craze and the massive WinterPLAY Carnival slated for February. At times, they were losing their minds. As the countdown to the Northern Classic went from months to weeks to days, they continued to push forward. As I watched Jenn call the show from up in the media box alongside our friend Marlon Jones from the production company, and as I watched Claude manage the delegations down at ice level, I was struck by their calm, professionalism, and excellence. Seeing all three of them on the ground less than 24 hours later helping to run the Santa Parade completely blew me away. It was a moment that mattered.

  • I signed up for the Northern Classic shortly after announcing my election run. After a narrow victory my schedule became wall-to-wall meetings and commitments from morning to night, which left little time to keep up with the demands of the Northern Classic project. Paul McWilliams, Director of Marketing and Development for MacDonald Island Park stepped up and selflessly kept the communication ball rolling. He did a great job and is largely responsible for the public relations success of the event. Paul, and in fact the entire MacDonald Island Team (Mi Team), from Tim, Nate, and Mike to Kelsey, Nancie, and was all hands on deck for the Northern Classic...gave a true TEAM EFFORT from beginning to end, from the mind-numbing lows to the atmospheric highs. Watching it provided innumerable moments that mattered.

  • The moment that stands out for me, above all others, is standing on the carpet at centre ice during the pre-game celebrations, singing along with David Francey as he performed "Skating Rink". Surrounded by over 5,700 fans, on an amazing rink, under the lights and the brilliant northern sky, the lyrics of a song came alive in front of my eyes. And the music from the skating rink drifts across the town, and the stars are heaven high above forever looking down. And I'm standin' looking upward and listenin' to the sound of the village in the lonely heart of winter. And the lights above the skating rink illuminate the scene. And on the snow shadows show the footsteps where we've been. And Danny's breath hands motionless and hovers like a dream, above his head in the lonely heart of winter.

These little nuggets of memory often get lost in the windmills of our minds over time. I think it would be so cool if everyone took a few minutes to capture the moments that mattered to them. The stories weaved together could be shared with the rest of the world when they try to understand about this BIG SPIRIT we keep talking about.


  1. Thank you Russell For the great article and for articulating the moments that mattered! Your leadership as a Northern Classic Director was greatly appreciated!



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