Courtesy of Darren Zary, Saskatoon Star Phoenix
Mark Odnokon has doubled up on his hockey hall of fame pleasure.
First, he was among the 1981-82 Prince Albert Raiders inducted in the Saskatchewan Hockey Association’s Hall of Fame in Prince Albert.
Then, on the weekend, he was among those inducted into the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League Hall of Fame during a ceremony in Melfort.
What a two-week stretch it’s been.
“Boy, it’s really humbling,” said Odnokon, who teaches at Carlton Comprehensive High School in Prince Albert.
“I’ve been blessed to be associated with good people.”
In Prince Albert, that meant head coach Terry Simpson and the Raiders. That’s where he lived out his dream.
“That’s all I wanted as a kid, basically,” said Odnokon, who’ll turn 52 in October.
“And then, as things went on, I thought, ‘Geez, wouldn’t it be great if I could ever coach in the Saskatchewan junior league.’ And then I’m fortunate to get to Melfort.”
As it turns out, Odnokon would be the first coach of the SJHL’s Melfort Mustangs when the franchise was transferred over from Lloydminster.
The players, however, did not come with it.
“We lost the rights to all of our list players,” recalled Odnokon, who had won a pair of Centennial Cup national junior A hockey championships with Prince Albert before heading to the University of Minnesota-Duluth on a hockey scholarship.
“That was the start of it but, you know what, we got things off the ground and all these kids wanted to come here and keep coming back. It wasn’t because of me — it was because of the community. They were treated like rock stars.”
He remembers being down in Minot, N.D., for league meetings, where then-president Wayne Kartusch, Mustangs team president Dale Friar and league officials talk about the team’s early roster dilemma.
“There are speed bumps now, but, back then, they were mountains,” quipped Odnokon, who coached the Mustangs from 1988-1990.
“We had some growing pains those first two years but, boy, what a resilience we had — the board, the community. We persevered through some tough times. The community sucked it up and kept going.
“For me to be still associated with the SJHL, I couldn’t be prouder. That’s the badge I’d like to wear.”
Odnokon remembers how, at the start, the team was run out of Mustangs’ general manager Len Strandberg’s truck.
“Oh, cripes, yeah,” he said with a chuckle, acknowledging the early efforts of Strandberg and team volunteers.
“Boy, what effort and time they put in. They all had jobs, families and we were just finding our way through the dark. Now you look at the rink (Northern Lights Palace) and everything and you think that maybe this was a byproduct of some of the great things that people did.”
After building up its player list, Melfort went on to win its first SJHL title during the 1991-92 season.
Strandberg, who was also inducted into the SJHL Hall of Fame over the weekend, credits Odnokon for giving the Mustangs a solid foundation to start with.
“That first year, he was so busy putting out fires, it was incredible,” said Strandberg.
“We were awful that first year. He put up a list that ended up winning a championship. It was a big start.”