Competitors and fans gathered at the Wilfred T. Lipton Arena on Boxing Day to take in the 53rd-annual game, held amongst resident and former resident hockey players. Although this game has been played for over half a century, following a 2017 renaming, it was reorganized as the Ken Baird Memorial Boxing Day Game.
Twenty or so players adorned the sweaters of two teams – the Oilers and the Jets. Each team wore a single number: 19 for the Oilers and 26 for the Jets. A solitary name stood out on the back of each participant – BAIRD. It would have been a nightmare for anyone trying to do play by play on the game, but was undoubtedly an honour for each participant to wear the name and number of a man all of Snow Lake is proud of.
Ken Baird was a husband, father and grandfather first, but he was also a hard worker, a humourous and steadfast friend to many, an avid golfer, an “honest” fisherman and a big supporter of minor hockey.
However, what Ken Baird was best known for was his prowess on the ice. He got his start in minor hockey in Flin Flon, and when his family moved to Snow Lake in 1962, the 12-year-old continued playing at the midget level. It was in Snow Lake that he made up his mind to pursue a career in hockey. He played two years at the junior level, most of it with the Flin Flon Bombers.
He set a record with the Bombers for points by a defenceman, with 75 during the 1970-71 campaign. He also made the 1970-71 WCHL all-star second team. That second year of junior impressed NHL scouts, as he was selected in the second round of the 1971 draft, 15th overall by the California Golden Seals. Right behind Terry O’Reilly and ahead of Larry Robinson and Rick Kehoe!
After the draft, he played with the Oklahoma City Blazers of the CHL and was called up a couple of times that first year, playing 10 games with the Seals in 1971. The following year he jumped to the WHA with the Alberta Oilers and spent five years with them.
Although Baird picked up a few assists in the NHL, he never did score a goal. However, it was a different story In the WHA. He got 14 goals in his first season, 17 in his second, and picked up 30 in his third. All the while averaging 130 penalty minutes a season.
Injuries and sickness played a part in Baird’s career starting in 1973-74, when he missed several games with an inflamed sac around his heart. In 1975-76, he missed the final 33 games of the season as a result of a serious knee injury and subsequent surgery. In 1976, the then 26-year-old, Baird got sick and was diagnosed with diabetes. He missed pretty well the whole year; however, he returned to the pros in 1977 with the Winnipeg Jets and went out of the league a winner, potting 14 goals and setting up seven others that season before hoisting the Avco Cup at its conclusion. Baird went on to become a successful international player in Europe, and this is where he met and married wife Uschi. Sadly, Baird passed away on Dec. 18, 2016 at the age of 65.
The decision to rename the annual game was made by several members of the rec hockey team, who wanted to recognize their friend and teammate. Ted Stabback and Terry Hornyak organized a successful golf tournament during the 70th celebration and with the help of Ken’s brother Dave and Darryl Wooley they raised enough money to buy the two sets of sweaters honouring Baird.
The 2018 game saw an assortment of older (over 30) beauties, benders and grinders don the Jets jerseys and a host of younger guns (under 30) sport the Oiler sweaters. They played two periods of fairly swift and skilled hockey before the buzzer crowned the old boys winners with a score of 18-14! One more 10-minute period would have undoubtedly seen a different ending, as the Oilers began tapping new wells of energy … while the Jets were close to extinguishing their afterburners.
Between periods, some of the wee folk from Snow Lake Minor Hockey played a scrimmage while the big boys rested. There appeared to be several age groupings split between the two Spartan teams. They were quite evenly matched, as the score was closer, ending 9-6 (I believe) for the white team. As is the case whenever there are young players on the ice … you always know where the puck is. Just follow the crowd!
During both games Ken and Uschi Baird’s daughter Amber sold 50/50 tickets … a quarter of the proceeds went to Minor Hockey, another quarter went to rec hockey and half ($267.50) went to the winner – Rick Stoltz.
A great game, on a fine afternoon … honouring a prince of a guy!
In other news … I was in the Golden Vista block (senior-focused Living) over the holidays and two important donations were being discussed. Firstly, locals Bev and Ken Erickson donated a beautiful artificial Christmas tree to the residents and it was on display in all its splendour in their common room. Also, resident Ben Foord donated an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) to the block. Judging by the reaction of residents I spoke to, they are all mightily grateful!