Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League

North Stars 50th Anniversary Weekend: A half-century in the making

(Photo Credit to Martin Martinson/BattlefordsNow)

(Article Courtesy Martin Martinson/BattlefordsNow)

About 400 players, staff, fans, and families of Battlefords North Stars’ alumni, past and present, came out over the weekend to celebrate a half-century of franchise history at the North Stars 50th Anniversary Weekend.

The celebration opened with a golf tournament at North Battleford Golf and Country Club Friday afternoon, followed by supper and a social. Saturday then featured a ‘Kid’s Day’ during the afternoon, complete with bouncy castles, bean bag toss, duck pond, and more at Beaver Lions Stadium, followed by supper, and entertainment by comedian Kelly Taylor.

Franchise scoring leader Martin Smith, who played five seasons with the North Stars from 1987-92, was among those in attendance for the weekend and said right from the get-go, it didn’t take long to see some familiar faces from the past.

“Just even registering, the number of players that I looked up to that are here, that played before me and then right up to this year’s championship team from all different decades are here, so it’s been a lot of fun,” he said with a smile.

Hitting the links Friday with former teammate and longtime friend, Jody Reiter, who suited up with the black and silver from ‘91-94, together with their wives, Smith perhaps best encapsulated what the weekend was all about talking of his experience on the golf course.

“Jerry Bick was in the group behind us, and I wore #27 because of him,” Smith said with a laugh. “Then of course my nephew Kian [Bell] wore #27 this year, my old number, so that was pretty cool to talk about when we met out on the tee boxes,” he said. Marketing manager with the Stars, Kennedy Schmidt, said the turnout was nothing short of outstanding, with returning alumni covering the entirety of the first five decades of the organization.
“I actually did the math yesterday and we do have at least one guy from every team here, which is unbelievable,” Schmidt said. “To have guys coming from the [inaugural] ’73-74 team… we weren’t even the North Stars then, we were the Barons, so it’s been unreal.”

Ken Hewson, who is from just under 40 minutes west of the Battlefords in Cut Knife, wore #11 for that inaugural Barons’ team.

Among those from the earliest years of the franchise on-hand for the weekend’s festivities, he said as he thinks back on the last 50 years since that first season, it’s the longevity and sustained success that really stands out.

“I think it’s great for a small city like North Battleford to have a Junior A team that long,” Hewson said. “It’s great to see and they did really well this year, so that’s been a good thing.”

Current Head Coach of the Battlefords AAA Sharks, Nolan Horbach, who played 145 games over three seasons with the North Stars from 1994-97, said even as someone who remains in the community, the weekend served as a chance to catch up with a number of familiar faces from his playing days for the first time in years.

“It’s been far too long,” he said, shaking his head with a grin when asked about reconnecting with old friends.

Golfing with a number of former teammates from close to 30 years ago, Horbach said it didn’t take long for the stories to get flowing.

“Some of the stories you hear, it’s hard to believe it’s been that long, but it’s been so good,” he said. “We all get busy with life and kids and everything, so to have an opportunity to connect again is fantastic. We’ve got guys from locally here, but also Kendall Sidoruk came out from Nebraska, we’ve got guys from Lloydminster, Lanigan, Saskatoon… we’re from all over the place, so it’s so good to be together.”

Sidoruk, who is from Spiritwood originally, just over an hour northeast of the Battlefords, tended the pipes for the North Stars for three years from 1993-96, before moving out to Nebraska to play four years of NCAA hockey with the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

He said even all these years later, he still looks back on his years with the Stars among his fondest memories.

“To get back to be with these guys, I’ve been looking forward to this since probably a year out,” Sidoruk said. “These were probably the best memories I had in my hockey career, and you build this bond with these guys that’s hard to replace.”

Mitch Wall, who is from Edam and played three seasons with the Stars from ‘06-10, was golfing alongside old teammates, Brett Miller (’08-12) and Blake Tatchell (‘09-12), and longtime friend Jared Blaquiere who would play the final 18 games of his Junior career with the Stars in (’16-17), as a deadline pickup of the ’17 championship team.

“It’s been nice to see some old friends, all my old linemates are here I got to play with, and it’s really nice to see the range,” Wall said. “There’s some old Barons, coming right to the current guys. It’s nice to see the range of different years these guys have played.”

Still residing in the local area, Wall said like many former players, he’s kept a close eye on the team in the years since his playing days, now as a regular with his family in the stands.

“I’m from Edam so I get to stay connected with the Stars, and it’s been fun watching these last few years as alumni, just bring proud of these guys this last year winning it all, and it’s been nice to be able to see up close and getting to watch now with my kids,” he said.

President of the North Stars, Kyle Kellgren said the 50th Anniversary Weekend served as the perfect way to cap off what was a true season for the ages for the organization.

“This year has been just unbelievable,” Kellgren said, reflecting on the last 10 months. “We just keep knocking things out of the park: League championship, going to the national championship, and now celebrating our 50th … it’s just been that kind of year. It’s been a great weekend seeing so many alumni and we couldn’t have asked for more.”