As coach of the women’s Vortex hockey team, they lovingly call him Papa. He was involved in the construction of the Tom Forsyth Memorial Arena, played in the Omineca League and played on a Burns Lake men’s hockey team before it became the Burns Lake Braves. He has coached Burns Lake Minor Hockey and has been a referee and now, local Ron Ruffell has the players entrance at the Tom Forsyth Memorial Arena dedicated to him.
For 42 years, Ruffell has been a regular at the arena in one capacity or another.
Late last year a number of Vortex team members contacted the Village of Burns Lake council to see if it would be possible to dedicate the players entrance [facing the tennis courts] to Ruffell in honour of the contributions he has made to local hockey for more than four decades.
They requested the entrance be named the ‘Ron Ruffell Players Entrance’ in order to give something back to him in return.
Janette Derksen Vortex goalie said, “Burns Lake Vortex approached council on behalf of the citizens of our community who commend Ron for his volunteerism and dedication to the arena and the game of hockey. We also recognize that there are many other individuals that have put in numerous volunteer hours in this area as well and we don’t want to take away from those volunteers and hope that the village and arena staff can commemorate all long term volunteers in some way in the future.”
Before a recent practice the team held a special ceremony to honour Ruffell with the newly hung sign above the door.
He said to Lakes District News that when he was summoned to the arena early, before practice he thought he was in trouble or about to be ‘let go’ as coach, but he never suspected the surprise he got when he arrived.
“These girls are wonderful,” he said about his team.
Cherie McEntire, who has played on the team for 12 years and Connie Anderson, who has played for 11 years both agreed that coaches don’t come any better than Ruffell.
“We just love Papa and he has always been very proud of us,” said McEntire, adding that it was nice to see Ruffell a little teary eyed when he was presented with the sign that was made by local Dirk Hofer, the wood shop teacher at Lakes District Secondary School.
“Papa has boosted everyone’s confidence and ability,” said Anderson.
According to McEntire, it is not just the Vortex team that wanted to dedicate the players entrance to Ruffell. “I know Papa loves us and is so happy to be a part of our Vortex team but we were not the only ones who wished to bestow this honour upon him, all the groups wanted to honour him,” she said.
Ruffell said of his team, that they have been his favourites to coach over the years. “The women are easier to coach, they smell better [that the men] and they look better too,” he joked.
A proud coach, he used his moment in the spotlight to expand on the efforts of his Vortex team.
“The Vortex team represent Burns Lake, they have been to the Northern Winter Games three times winning a silver and two bronze and I don’t think another team in the North has done that. They are a terrific team and always put in 100 per cent. Their attitude is really good and they are certainly a pleasure to coach,” he said.
Before he started coaching the Vortex, Ruffell said he was ready to hang up his skates and whistle. “I had, had enough but they talked me into coaching …. now it’s a whole new life for me, it was like turning a page,” he said.
As for one of the best things about coaching his adult team Ruffell said with a smile that there is no parents involved.
While he has been a regular at the arena for more than 40 years, Ruffell says he is not as old as he looks.
“The kids say to me, Papa I like your kicks [sneakers],” Ruffell said pointing to his fashionable sneakers.
“They even taught me how to ‘properly’ lace up my shoes.” According to Ruffell laces are not supposed to be tied at the top, but tucked into the shoe behind the tongue. “That’s what the kids tell me.”
Derksen said to Lakes District News that she had once suggested the arena should be renamed as ‘the Ronnie Ruffell Arena.’
“He said no, but he said what would be better would be to name the entrance the Ruffell entrance because he cant remember how many times he came in and out of that door. Bringing in and out players bags, jerseys, sons and grand kids.” And that’s just what happened.
“I am so proud and I couldn’t even imagine that this would happen in my wildest dreams. Every minor hockey player uses this entrance … this is their entrance and I know there would have been a lot involved in organizing this. It’s a legacy,” he said.