This past weekend, members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 6166 closed out their ninth annual hockey tournament, a nine-day event that featured eight teams and well over 100 participants.
This year’s festivities took place at the Thompson Regional Community Centre and served as the last major Thompson hockey event of the season.
After nine days of intense competition, the two teams known as the T-1 Timberdogs and City Slickers battled their way to the finals on Friday, April 6, with the mining squad eventually pulling off a narrow 7−6 victory in overtime.
While this tournament is designed to be a friendly competition between friends and co-workers, this final competition was full of dramatic moments and intense back-and-forth action.
Even though the Timberdogs were down 3−1 by the end of the second period, they mounted an impressive comeback in the third, eventually taking a 6−5 lead with two minutes left to go. However, the City Slickers snuck in a goal with just over a minute left, which forced the game into overtime.
Timberdogs team captain Alex Head eventually scored the game winning goal five minutes into this extra period, an action that also earned him the title of tournament MVP.
The last time this team walked away with the tournament’s top prize was back in 2013, a fact that was not lost on the Timberdogs’ roster in the immediate aftermath of the final.
“We feel excited. Pumped,” said union member James Crawley, who worked the door on the Timberdogs’ bench. “The city’s a very good team, and we were cautious, but we’re extremely excited. You don’t know the pride that’s bumping through the dressing room right now. The boys are ecstatic.”
However, this year’s tournament came bundled with some extra dramatic weight.
Not only does it comes at a time when Vale’s Birchtree Mine is on care and maintenance, but the smelter and refinery is also about to close down this upcoming summer, which will reduce their overall workforce to around 800 people.
Even though this grim reality had the potential to drag the whole tournament down, outgoing USW Local 6166 president Les Ellsworth said that they were still able to recruit participants to represent classic teams like the Birchtree Hooligans, Smelter Rats, and Refinery Heat at least one last time.
“The players were excellent,” said Ellsworth. “They are what makes up the tournament and it’s certainly great for morale in a very difficult time in our city. So I’m quite pleased the way the tournament turned out.”
Moving forward, Crawley said he and other USW Local 6166 members are committed to organizing this same event next year, even if it means casting a broader net in terms of who gets to play.
“We’re not going to have the membership to support having a tournament, so we’re going to have to open it up a little bit,” said Crawley, referencing the possibility of recruiting participation from groups like MTS and Manitoba Hydro.
“It’ll be a union sponsored tournament, but we’re going to have to open it up to keep it alive and I think we’re willing to do that.”