January 24th, 2021

Hounds are Hat’s best friend: Hockey group earns spot on Sports Wall of Fame

By RYAN MCCRACKEN on January 2, 2021.

In this Dec. 7, 2018 file photo, Medicine Hat Hounds defenceman Caleb Irvine skates by his bench in celebration after scoring in a South Central Alberta Hockey League midget AA game against the Taber Golden Suns at the Kinplex. -- NEWS FILE PHOTO RYAN MCCRACKEN

rmccracken@medicinehatnews.com@MHNMcCracken

Fifty years ago, Orest Tkachyk joined up with several other Hatters to form a group known as the Medicine Hat Hockey Hounds.

A half-century later, Tkachyk and the Hounds can still be found in every corner of the local hockey community – from boardrooms to bingos and scorekeeper’s boxes – and in 2021, the spotlight they’ve been shining on the city’s youth will finally turn their way as the newest inductees to the Medicine Hat Sports Wall of Fame.

“It’s nice to see the community and the city recognize the organization for the fellas who are still there. There are fellas who are 20-30 years within the organization. There aren’t too many clubs that have members who stick around that long unless the club is doing something substantial,” said Tkachyk, the Hounds’ last active founding member.

“Why did I stay for the 50 years? Because of what it has done for the community, for the development of not only facilities but also young hockey players. We have made numerous donations through minor hockey for under-privileged kids. And the continuation of support and development, not only to see the young players, but also development from the coaches’ point of view, officials and referees … That’s what kept me involved.”

Earning a place on the Medicine Hat Sports Wall of Fame with Tkachyk still serving as a prominent member of the organization makes the accolade even sweeter, says Hounds president Rod Dunham. Over the past 50 years, Tkachyk has been a familiar face and a set of helping hands in arenas across the city, and he hasn’t slowed down.

“OT is the original,” said Dunham. “He still volunteers to help out at our tournament, working bingos, working casinos – any chance he gets to help out, he’s still there to help.”

The Hounds may be best known for their annual major bantam hockey tournament – which draws eyes from scouts across the Western Hockey League – but their impact on Medicine Hat’s hockey and sledge hockey scenes is near endless. From sponsorships and scholarships, to regular volunteer work in arenas across the city, to the installation of defibrillators in each of those barns, the Hounds keep hockey thriving in the Gas City.

“They’ve been a crucial part of our community for over 50 years now. They annually host their bantam AAA tournament, which we know brings in a really high amount of economic value to our community. They’ve donated more than $2 million to different initiatives,” said Medicine Hat Sport and Event Council co-ordinator Kara Brake.

“One of those was the 2019 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, they were a major sponsor of that event. They do lots of other things. They support teams and programs such as the minor hockey association, the South East Athletic Club, the Cubs, sledge hockey, they do their annual scholarships to high school students. I’d just say the one thing we love about them is they’re always willing to get involved where they can, and their expertise has become an essential part to training other volunteers.”

The Sport and Event Council was one of many groups and individuals to submit letters as part of the Hounds’ nomination package, including longtime volunteer Leslie Rapuano, which helped the Hounds become the city’s first organization to earn a place on the Wall.

“It was totally my honour,” said Rapuano, who has volunteered with the Hounds in a variety of capacities. “I’ve volunteered with them for nine or 10 years now with their tournaments and things like that, and I’ve really grown to respect how well they’ve run their organization. They think of everything.

“They’ve got it down to quite the science when they run a tournament. And just the way they give back in different ways, looking after jerseys and whatever is needed in the rinks, and putting defibrillators in the rinks which I thought was amazing.”

Rapuano’s son has progressed through Medicine Hat’s minor hockey system, but she continues to volunteer with the Hounds, believing the group is directly tied to the city’s culture and identity – and she’s clearly not alone.

“I would be remiss, honestly, if something ever happened and that organization had to fold. As a person who has been lucky enough to volunteer in my capacity, I would be a little devastated,” she said. “They’re such a positive service group in Medicine Hat. It’s mind-blowing to think it’s 50 years that they’ve been around.”

No matter the time of year, you can rest assured that the Hounds are either hard at work planning the next bantam hockey tournament, or busy running one. The 16-team tourney – which would have celebrated its 50th year in November if not for the COVID-19 pandemic – is an annual staple in Western Canadian bantam hockey, and making sure it runs smoothly requires a full year of planning and a small army of eager volunteers.

“We start our planning about three weeks after the end of the tournament, because we start booking our ice and everything,” said Hounds treasurer Dale Fuller. “The main part of the planning process starts really getting going in, I would say, June or July.”

Fuller spent several years as chair of the Hounds’ bantam tournament and says it’s always a treat to see players who competed at the event work their way through hockey’s ranks – sometimes even earning spots on NHL rosters.

“I think the big things is that when you stop and look at some of the players we’ve had go through our tournament, and how many get drafted to the Western Hockey League for one, or universities and everything, but also the number of players that we’ve had who came through this tournament over the years who have played in the NHL,” said Fuller. “You look at that, and you think, ‘We’ve done something right.’ We’re not the only thing, but we got to showcase them maybe a little bit more, when they got drafted to the Dub especially.”

The Hounds will be inducted alongside late boxing coach and builder Bill Page at a ceremony in 2021. The date for the ceremony will be announced once provincial health guidelines allow for public gatherings.

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