Saturday was a special day for White Rock Whalers owner Ronnie Paterson, who watched – along with a few hundred of his closest friends – as the Pacific Junior Hockey League’s newest franchise hit the ice for its first regular-season game at Centennial Arena.
That the Whalers lost the game, 4-3 to the defending league champion Richmond Sockeyes, was secondary to the celebration itself – a celebration that included hundreds of fans, as well as some well-known dignitaries.
Among those on hand were Hockey Night in Canada play-by-play broadcaster Jim Hughson – a South Surrey resident who served Saturday evening as the pre-game MC – as well as former National Hockey League goaltender and current Canucks broadcaster John Garrett, who lives in Surrey. White Rock resident Mark Donnelly – well known to hockey fans for his rendition of O Canada prior to Canucks’ games – sung the anthem prior to puck drop.
Current Canuck defenceman Troy Stecher – who is part of the Whalers’ ownership group, Paterson told Peace Arch News – was also on hand, as was White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin, and even some Whalers alumni who suited up for the junior ‘B’ team in the mid 1980s when the team played in the West Coast Hockey League, which served as a precursor to the PJHL.
“Opening night was very, very special – I think for us, and for the entire community,” Paterson said.
“We had lots of activity, lots of energy. It was a beyond-capacity crowd, with some live entertainment outside, and I think it all worked out really well.”
Paterson is a former co-owner of the Surrey Eagles of the BC Hockey League and, more recently, was a key figure in the ownership group of the Sockeyes before leaving to get the Whalers off the ground, and as such, has been present for many an opening night.
He admitted that Saturday had something of a different feel, however, because the team was brand new and built from scratch.
“All in all, it was a very special evening. It was a proud moment, I won’t deny that,” he said. “I think a lot of people were really looking forward to it.”
Among the highlights for Paterson, he told PAN, was Garrett – wearing a Hartford Whalers jersey from his own playing days – dropping the ceremonial puck.
“John is a guy I’ve met through the hockey community over the years, and I just reached out to him to see if he wanted to be involved and he said, ‘absolutely,’” Paterson explained. “He’s an original (Hartford) Whaler, so he loved the idea, loved the team name.”
Stecher’s involvement with the new team comes as a result of Paterson’s longtime relationship with his family.
“Troy grew up in Richmond, where I spent a lot of time as well and I’ve known the family for a long time,” he explained.
“Troy is a real student of the game and has always wanted to get involved in the business side of the sport… So when this idea of starting a team in White Rock emerged, I asked him if he wanted to be involved and he embraced the idea. He’s been an integral part of all this, and he’ll get more and more involved as time goes on.”
With an aim to carry Saturday’s momentum forward, Paterson said team brass has plenty of ideas for future home games – everything from “unique” promotions to a battle-of-the-bands night.
“There’s a good foundation here and a lot of excitement. We hope we can sustain it all year long.”