Manitoba

Small-town pizzeria lets stranded Winnipeg hockey team crash during snowstorm

A Winnipeg minor league hockey team was hot off a playoff game win on Sunday in rural Manitoba when a snowstorm forced them to hunker down in a small town and overnight in its local pizzeria, to the delight of the hungry players.

Benny's Astoria Pizzaria opens doors to Winnipeg Bruins AAA midget hockey club stranded in Shoal Lake storm

Nearly 30 Winnipeg hockey players and coaching staff crashed overnight at Benny's Astoria Pizzaria in Shoal Lake last weekend during a snowstorm that closed major highways and knocked out power for thousands of Manitobans. (Benny's Astoria Pizzaria/Facebook)

A Winnipeg hockey team got a slice of small-town hospitality over the weekend when a pizzeria in a rural Manitoba town let them gobble up 'zah and crash overnight during a wicked snowstorm.

Winnipeg Bruins AAA midget hockey coach Dan Eliasson said weather conditions were clear Sunday night when the puck dropped and his 20 players, ages 15-18, took on the Yellowhead Chiefs in Shoal Lake, about 230 kilometres west of Winnipeg.

The coaching staff knew the forecast for southern Manitoba called for a late-winter snow dump that night, which is why an assistant coach peeked outside the arena during the second period intermission to check on the storm. 

"As the [head] coach I was a little more focused on the game," Eliasson said. "He was a little bit worried about it but I kept telling him we'll take care of that after we get a win here today."

Turns out the assistant coach was right in his worry, because by the time the Bruins got the W, showered and started to file outside, howling winds had blown two-foot high mounds of snow all around their bus, Eliasson said.

Some parts of central and southwestern Manitoba were hit with 30 centimetres or more of snow during the storm.

They couldn't get the bus moving, Eliasson says, and besides that the major road out of town, Highway 16, was closed (as were several other highways that night).

While they and others stranded by the storm pondered their options, even considering sleeping in the rink, a couple parents had already ventured off into the white void in a truck to pick up 25 pizzas the team had previously ordered from Benny's Astoria Pizzaria.

"We knew they weren't going anywhere," said owners Brad Benton and his girlfriend Diane Cramer.

Eliasson said the team likes to stop at the pizza shop whenever they pull through Shoal Lake for a game, so they were familiar with Benton and Cramer. 

But they weren't expecting the invitation to stay the night. 

One car load at a time, a parent who'd made the drive out shuttled the players, parents and coaching staff from the rink to the pizzeria. In the end about 27 people packed into the place and spent the night.

"I said, 'The place is yours, guys,'" Benton said, adding the team was invited to watch television, play pool and listen to music on the pizzeria jukebox. "This is definitely small-town hospitality."

"They ended up having a blast," added Eliasson, whose players curled up on furniture and the floor. 

It's not the first time Benton and Cramer have opened their doors to strangers stranded in a storm.

"In this day and age, anything we can do to help each other out … it's nice for people to see everybody smiling," said Benton. "Enjoy yourself because we're not around for long."

The team's bus got shovelled out the next morning and they headed home, albeit at a slow clip as the highways remained covered in snow.

"It was an unfortunate situation for us but probably one of the best team-builders I've ever seen in my time coaching hockey," Eliasson said.

"It turned out to be a really good experience for our group. I can tell you the players are probably going to keep that as one of their top five hockey memories of all time as they grow up."

Eliasson has been coaching in the league for about a decade now and holds the Shoal Lake community, arena staff and players in high regard.

"They're about the nicest people that we come across in the league," he said. "If you had to be stuck, it's definitely the community to be stuck in."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryce Hoye

Reporter

Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, climate, health and more. He recently finished up a stint as a producer for CBC's Quirks & Quarks. He is the Prairie rep for OutCBC. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.

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