By Joel van der Veen
KENASTON — Hundreds filled the Kenaston Arena on Saturday night to pay tribute to a coach, teammate, neighbour and friend.
Longtime Blizzards player and coach Dean Blenkinsop was honoured with a brief ceremony at the rink, to retire his number and to recognize his years of service to hockey in Kenaston.
The ceremony was held the night of Oct. 28, prior to a senior hockey exhibition game between the Kenaston Blizzards and the Loreburn 19ers.
Introduced by former teammate Mark Asbjornhus, Blenkinsop walked onto the ice with his wife Michelle following closely behind him.
He stood quietly while the players on the ice and the crowd — estimated at more than 350 people — paid tribute with a standing ovation.
Following a slideshow of photos, a banner was unveiled at the far end of the rink, bearing Blenkinsop’s name and the number 10.
Dean then spoke briefly, thanking the team for the tribute, and saying, “Let’s have a fun night.”
Asbjornhus said the tribute was a “group effort,” calling Dean an “unbelievable guy” who has dedicated many years to the community.
“We’ve been talking about retiring his jersey for a while,” Asbjornhus said, adding as he looked over the crowd on Saturday night, “It seems to be coming together pretty good.”
Blenkinsop, 46, grew up in Hawarden and began playing senior hockey with the Blizzards in the late 1980s.
He continued with the team over the next 25 years, moving off the ice into coaching four years ago.
He was first diagnosed with colon cancer nine years ago, and has been battling the disease on and off since then.
Blenkinsop said he has been open about his fight with cancer, adding that he and his family have received plenty of support from the community.
He and Michelle have three daughters, ranging in age from nine to 13 years, while Michelle also has a 24-year-old son.
Blenkinsop said prior to the ceremony that organizers had kept most of their plans a secret.
“They just told me to show up tonight,” he said. “It’s exciting.”
Afterward, he said he enjoyed the ceremony, adding that the banner was a nice surprise touch.
Blizzards 7 19ers 5
The game that followed proved to be a close match between Kenaston and Loreburn, both of whom play in the Saskatchewan Valley Hockey League.
Kenaston opened the scoring with a goal by Darcy Schroeder, assisted by Monty Zdunich, about nine minutes into the game. (Both players are new additions to the team this year, moving over from the Dundurn Wheatkings.)
Mike Sagen and Rhett Kehoe also scored for Kenaston in the first period. Loreburn got on the board with 3:54 remaining in the period, courtesy of a goal by Jason Boyle, assisted by Austin Bristow and Brent Stamnes.
Mike Prpich scored for Kenaston 16 seconds into the second period, followed a minute later by a goal by Rhett Kehoe.
Next, Loreburn reclaimed some ground with back-to-back goals by Jack Okanee, assisted by Carter Norrish on the first, and by Brent Stamnes and Dawson Norrish on the second.
Scoring continued in a back-and-forth pattern for the rest of the second period.
A second goal for Kenaston’s Mike Prpich with 8:38 remaining was followed by a Loreburn goal, credited to Carter Norrish, with exactly seven minutes on the clock.
Evan Zdunich had Kenaston’s final goal of the game with 3:09 left in the period, extending their lead to 7-4. The goal was assisted by Rhett Kehoe, his fourth assist of the night.
Loreburn was the only team to score in the third period, narrowing the gap slightly with a goal by Brent Stamnes, assisted by Gil Martens, with 39.8 seconds remaining.
In addition to Schroeder and Zdunich, the Blizzards also welcomed local lad Dawson George, playing his first year of senior hockey.
“It’s nice to have some new blood,” said Mike Hertz, one of the Blizzards’ coaches.
Blenkinsop remains on the team’s coaching staff this year, sharing duties with Hertz, Josh Kerpan and Jon Zdunich.
Hertz said the four all act as coach-managers, allowing them to divide the workload and responsibility of travelling with the team for road games.
As in past years, the Blizzards compete in the Saskatchewan Valley Hockey League, along with Beechy, Central Butte, Delisle, Elrose, Eston, Kyle, Loreburn and Outlook.
Kenaston was scheduled to host its first regular season game on Nov. 3, welcoming the Central Butte Flyers.