Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League

Saskatchewan’s Finest: Bruins a family affair for the Piersons

(Photo Credit to Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada)

(Article written by Jamie Neugebauer)

There is something special about the bond between small-town Saskatchewan hockey teams and the specific local families who have supported them for generations.

It would be difficult to come up with a family and a community to which that statement is more applicable than the Piersons and their beloved Estevan Bruins.

Jeff Pierson, who is the owner and general manager at the Days Inn Hotel and attached Blackbeard’s restaurant and a big-time sponsor of the Bruins, gets emotional just talking about what the club means to his family.

“I grew up with them,” he says.

“I was seven years old when we started billeting (Bruins players in 1979), so it’s been like 40 years of involvement! Just the biggest thing is the relationships we’ve built and still have over that time. I’m still really close with Alan May (Bruins’ alumnus and 400-plus NHL-game veteran), for example, and when he lived with us, even though he was around 10 years older, he was an idol to my brother and me. So yeah, our family involvement in the team runs really deep.”

The Pierson family started in the hospitality industry in Estevan in the late 1950s with his grandparents. After time on the oil rigs, Jeff moved back to ‘the Energy City’ in his 20s to help out in the hotel, and worked his way up to his current position, a spot he has held for almost 20 years now.

Over that time, he has worked in numerous positions with the Bruins, including as club president, a post he stepped down from after 2012-2013.

“We feel super fortunate to be involved,” he continues.

“Just being part of a small town, (I feel) you just have to get involved in local hockey if you’re a business owner. That was taught to me by the two generations before me. You can’t expect to be supported in your community if you don’t do anything for it, to give back to it; that’s how I was raised, and that’s how I operate.”

Jeff, his brother Brad, who owns the Murray General Motors Estevan car dealership, and the whole Bruins and SJHL family mourned the loss of their mother Melodye in Dec. of 2022.

She was not just the matriarch of the Pierson clan, but she was passionate about the Bruins, and lovingly billeted countless young men over the 40 years of involvement, the long list of whom could be found on a wall in her house.

Her legacy will forever live on in the history of the team and the league.

“She just left her mark with so many people,” says Pierson, “and people still stop me and want to talk about her all the time.

“There wasn’t many in Estevan that didn’t know her to be honest,” he adds, “she was involved in everything. She would have done anything for the team, and she lives a really cool life involved with the club in all sorts of ways. Brad and I are so proud of her memory, as much as her loss is still so tough to us and the whole community.”

Melodye’s spirit to give back not just to the Bruins, but to the whole community was memorialized by Jeff and Brad’s initiative at her funeral to ask people to donate to a local program called ‘Angel Tree’, in which less fortunate families can receive turkey dinners and gifts around the holidays.

Such was her impact on all who knew her that over $25,000 was collected.

“I think the thing I’ll remember the most about her was just how much she enjoyed life,” says Bruins’ head coach and general manager Jason Tatarnic.

“She was always really positive and was always happy to see you, in a world where not many people are like that. She was one of the first people I met when I first came to Estevan and she was very welcoming. She would do anything for your family, invite you over for dinner, things like that. She was just a genuinely nice person.”

That genuine friendliness mixed with a relentless work ethic has seeped clearly into her children and grandchildren.

Jeff’s daughter Bailey is a first-class dental hygienist in Calgary, while his son Ryder, who was a forward for the Bruins between 2018 and 2021, is in his third year of business school in Saskatoon en route to becoming an accountant.

The Pierson’s Days Inn itself, just steps away from Affinity Place the home of the Bruins, has won numerous honours recently, including the national ‘Guest Choice of the Year’, and the “Chairman’s Award’, handed out by Days Inn’s parent company for excellence and quality of service.

Its convenience and class were on full display during the 2022 Centennial Cup, the National Junior A championship, for which Estevan was the host. Jeff and his staff helped provide meals and lodging for the droves of Hockey Canada and various league officials, as well as scouts, families, and the teams themselves.

It was an experience Jeff will never forget.

“This place just gives me great pride every day,” he says.

“To be at the hotel, keeping it running like its founders my grandparents, then my mom and her brothers…to carry that on and do so at a high level is quite an honour. I’m just a small part of it, we have an incredible staff, many of whom have been with us for a long time, and it’s more like a family than a staff at this point.”

Jeff and the Piersons are rabid Bruins fans, but they also treat everybody around the league with sincere warmth and regularly host visiting teams at their establishments.

“I love following the SJHL,” Jeff says.

“With my involvement in the team from the sponsorship side and Bruins operational side, I’ve built so many lifelong friendships all over the league, and just generally I love the game that has given me and my family so much on so many different levels. I’ve coached, both my kids played for a very long time, and yeah, I love hockey; so to be involved like I am is just natural.”

As much as the Piersons feel at home at Affinity Place, Coach Tatarnic is clear that the love for the family is mutual.

“We’re very fortunate to have them,” Tatarnic says, “their whole family.

“We really appreciate them; they help us have a hockey team here and we’re really lucky to have their support. They’ve also always been involved, on the board, and have an active hand with the team as well as the league. They’ve always had a heavy presence with our team and the league and we are so proud to have them as part of our Bruins family.”

The SJHL has so many great sponsors, who are like family to all of us at the league, to keep it all going so that we can keep serving the players, staffs and communities as we do.

Jeff and his family are firmly in that category, and there is no doubt that they are among Saskatchewan’s Finest.