Nearly 10 years ago, a young Winfield hockey player named Nathan Piche passed away.
Piche was an avid and skilled hockey player and well loved among a tight-knit group of friends.
Sean Young, a friend of Piche’s, wished to involve both the Winfield hockey world and the community in remembering him. So began the tradition of the Winfield Winter Classic: a Winfield hockey alumni game that celebrates Piche’s life and gathers donations to KidSport Kelowna.
“Nathan was one of the guys, you know. Good person and a great hockey player,” said Young. “Not only are we able to help a good cause, it’s the one time of the year where we can get a large group of guys together. We reflect, share some memories, see how everyone is doing, and play some hockey.”
At the Winfield Arena in Lake Country, the passionate players come together every December, this year it was on Dec. 22, to lace up some skates and skate to remember their friend. Two almost full-sized hockey teams, who played hockey with Piche or are involved with Winfield hockey, throw on their loved and stinky hockey gear, maybe for the only time that year, and play a full 60 minute game of hockey, which the community has fully embraced.
“I get lots of people asking when the Memorial game is going to be, and every year it’s better than I expected,” said Young. “We get messages to see if local players can get involved and we do our best to fill every spot (for the hockey game), but it’s important to get the guys who knew Nathan best on the ice.”
The Winfield Arena holds about 150 people, and every year the number of people who come grows, as the arena was nearly completely full at the 2017 Classic.
“We get together, play, and celebrate afterwards (at a local restaurant),” said Dekker Mende, one of the annual players at the game. “It’s a fun game and its the one time of year that everyone’s home for the holidays. It’s great to raise money and to remember a guy we grew up with. It’s a tribute.”
In the 10 years of the Winfield Winter Classic, the games have generated an estimated $10,000 that has been donated to KidSport. With 50/50 raffles and donations from Lake Country Liquor Store and Seca + Surf & Marine, the arena is packed with locals as Piche’s jersey hangs from the rafters.
“We do a moment of slice for Nathan at the beginning, and the stands are full, with 100-130 people and it’s a good and large community of different age groups that come out for the game. At the end of the day, it’s about getting together with everyone.”
“It’s become a tradition that not only the players look forward to, but everyone in the community looks forward to.”
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