On the phone accepting congratulations and well wishes from a reporter, you can hear Roy Sakaki kicking at the imaginary pebbles at his feet, his head looking down, shrugging his shoulders.
Sakaki is happy to see other people thrust into the limelight but when the light shines on him, he becomes quite bashful.
Sakaki, 72, Salmon Arm’s answer to Mr. Hockey, was honoured by Hockey Canada with its 2020 Order of Merit West Award.
“It’s quite an honour but really, there are thousands of people deserving of the award. I should be thankful, and I am,” said Sakaki, a retired school principal who has done just about every job and position within minor hockey. “It’s really an honour.”
“If you have been involved in hockey in Salmon Arm, B.C. as player, coach, official or fan,” wrote Hockey Canada on its Facebook page announcing the award, “then the name Roy Sakaki holds plenty of meaning. Over the last 50 years, Roy has become the heart of the game in the city, earning the moniker Mr. Hockey among locals.”
A graduate of the University of B.C., and a member of the school’s Thunderbirds hockey team, Sakaki, a Kamloops native, arrived in the Shuswap in the early 1970s and got involved right away behind the bench with the Salmon Arm Minor Hockey Association.
Over the next two decades he coached up and down the association, guiding his own kids and thousands of others through the game. He traded his clipboard for a whistle in the early 1990s and started officiating, and 30 years later he continues to mentor young officials to strive for excellence and not just collect a paycheque.
He and business partner Gord Mackintosh started a hockey school in Enderby and moved it to Salmon Arm, a school that ran for more than 30 years before the pair sold it to the Salmon Arm Silverbacks of the B.C. Hockey League.
In 2005, after volunteer stints as coach coordinator and referee-in-chief, Sakaki took over as administrator for the SAMHA. “He is the glue that keeps everything running smoothly, a voice of reason on committees and has a natural ability to diffuse conflict with great perspective and a big smile,” wrote Hockey Canada. “His love for the game and gentle spirit shines through in ways only people in his community can fully understand.”
The community was also thrilled to learn of Sakaki’s award, leaving many words of congratulation on the Facebook post. One came from Sakaki’s former UBC teammate Tom Williamson, who lives in Vernon.
“Roy is the greatest hockey player ever from the Kamloops Elks,” deadpanned Williamson. “I had the good fortune to be a teammate of his. Roy is a wonderful example of giving back to hockey.”
Said Debbie Kenoras: “There is no one better, so well deserved. You have a heart of a champion, Roy. So happy for you.”