It didn’t matter how many pucks went in the net, the atmosphere was charged with fans in seats.
The Burns Lake Timbermen were only an idea, a set of cool jerseys, and a practice squad until the night of Oct. 21 when the puck dropped at the Tom Forsyth Arena and the Greater Metro Junior-A Hockey League (GMHL) became real in this town for the first time.
“It was absolutely phenomenal, to be honest,” said head coach James Dyment. “The fan support through the whole game, the guys heard every cheer, it pumped them up, and they were very excited. They were pumped, after the game, and in great spirits.”
That says a lot, considering the final score versus the Mackenzie Mountaineers was 13-4, and the next night they travelled to Mackenzie for their first road game and lost 10-2. Still, the excitement and optimism around the team are palpable.
The public feedback “really helps their self esteem and does wonders for the boys,” Dyment said, and the league’s West Division executive director, Derek Prue.
“Great crowd, people were entertained, the game was closer than the score showed. The team was in penalty trouble from beginning to end, so that’s tough, but they were down 7-1 and got it back to 7-4, but Mackenzie had some 5-on-3 goals, but very entertaining and well attended. We just have to build on that, now,” Prue told the LD News.
It took less than a minute for the fans to see a goal in the first-ever GMHL game ever played in this town. Unfortunately it was scored by Mackenzie Mountaineers star forward Louis Allen who lit the first lamp only 48 seconds into the contest and would go on to complete the hat trick by the end.
Jonas Smith, the 6-foot-6 defender from High Prairie is the only 21-year-old maximum-age player on the Timbermen roster. He got the lumberjacks on the board with the franchise’s inaugural goal scored at 1:05 of the first period, assisted by Connor Ratt and hometown player Carson Konkin.
The Burns Lake crowd got to cheer for the team’s first onslaught, at the start of period two. Three goals in the first three minutes had the Timbermen chopping again. The first was scored unassisted by Konkin, followed by Colin Starblanket only eight seconds later helped out by Aaron Johnson and Cody Higginson, then Higginson got one of his own, assisted by Ratt.
That was all the offence the team could muster that night. Starting goaltender Rayden Nishikawa faced 59 shots in the first 44 minutes of the game, letting in eight goals. Bailey Dyment-Martin came in to close it out, facing 25 more shots, letting in five.
The next night in Mackenzie, Collin Letendre (assisted by Kael Lamouche) and Starblanket picked up the Burns Lake markers.
“Fans don’t mind losing if they see the players competitive and developing,” said Prue, and that is exactly what this season is all about for the Timbermen. Rather than assemble a roster of 21-year-olds, the choice was made to go young and see them build to their prime hockey years.
The first game and its fan spirit came up later in the week at meeting of mayor and council where councillor Charlie Rensby said “it was a fairly packed house which was nice to see, and see an idea brought to us so long ago come to fruition.”