A group of youngsters from La Loche, Sask., were greeted with a thunderous standing ovation at a Saskatoon Blades hockey game Saturday night where they were special guests of the club.
The youths were in the city for a few days to take in the hockey game. They also went bowling, swimming and went to a movie (the new Zoolander film) — all part of a gesture to help the northern Saskatchewan community that suffered multiple deaths from a shooting in January.
"It's the first time they've been out of the community since the tragic shootings," Steve Hogle, president of the WHL club, said.
Support for the trip was provided by many business sponsors, Hogle noted, including Athabasca Basin Security.
"People have stepped up big time," Hogle added. "Park Town [a Saskatoon hotel] is putting them up, Boston Pizza and Sardinia are coming through with super specials for meals that are being picked up by Cameco and the Optimist Club of Saskatoon."
Bryan Trottier, a seven-time Stanley Cup champion, was also part of the special night called Hometown Hockey Heroes.
The youngsters from La Loche were at centre ice for the ceremonial puck drop.
Everyone wore the purple and gold colours of La Loche sports teams for a the brief ceremony.
"The standing ovation alone today gave you goose bumps," Jonathon Busse, a physical education teacher in La Loche, said.
Hogle said he worked on details of the special trip with Busse, "to show him and others in the community the love and support from people in other parts of the province."
Tyrelle Janvier-Lemaigre, a Grade 9 student who was on the trip, said it was a welcome diversion.
"With everything going on I think people just need a break," he said. "It's more fun than I've ever had in a while."
Busse said the trip is all about creating great memories.
"The biggest thing we've been trying to do is just as many positive memories [as possible] to these kids," Busse said. "This is just one, but it's a major trip for them."
It is the second time that clubs in the WHL have given a special nod to La Loche.
"We had a pretty powerful ceremony about a month ago when we formed a circle at centre ice, alternating Saskatoon Blades players with Regina Pats players, around people from La Loche who were in Saskatoon taking care of the injured in hospital, as well as RCMP officers, First Nations leaders and presidents of both teams," Hogle explained. "It was a wonderful show of unity for La Loche."