By Megan Roth
Cowboys and Indians took to the ice to battle it out for a good cause in the 34th game of Battle of the Little Big Puck.
Players from Nekaneet First Nations and card carrying rodeo cowboys strapped on their pads and laced-up their skates to raise money for the Maple Creek Hospital.
“The money is not going to Cypress Health Region, it is staying right here,” said Joe Baniff, an organizer and long-time player on the cowboys team.
This year the event raised more than $6,000, more than they have raised in any year previously.
When choosing a charity to donate to, both sides try to find a cause that is mutual for each group. For the past few years the money raised has been donated to the hospital, but that isn’t always the case.
Braniff remembers a few years ago when all the proceeds went to a man who lost everything in a fire.
“It was a unanimous agreement that we donate everything to him from both groups,” said Braniff.
Part of what makes this event so great, according to Braniff, is the long standing relationship between all the players.
Many of the players have a relationship that stretches back generations.
“We are friends with these guys, and so were our parents, grandparents and in some cases our great-grandparents,” Braniff said.
The Battle of Little Big Puck is more than a charitable endeavor, it is a celebration of people and culture.
In the third period, players from both teams dress up in traditional outfits. For the cowboys that mean chaps, flannel shirts and cowboy hats. For the Indian team it means deer hide, bells and, in some cases, elaborate headdresses.
“I don’t think of it as enforcing a stereotype, it’s a celebration of culture,” said Braniff.
The event is something everyone looks forward to all year long, and it shows when looking around the arena.
The seats are full with standing room only available. The crowd is excited and loud.
“You see people in the rink that you normally don’t see at hockey games. You see people here that aren’t hockey fans,” Braniff said.
The ‘battle’ is something that everyone takes pride in, not just the players, according to Braniff.
He attributes this pride in the game to the uniqueness of the event.
As far as he can tell there is no other game like this anywhere else.
Braniff believes the success of the game isn’t derived from the battle of two cultures, rather it is because it is, again, a celebration of cultures and of Canada.
“We are just two teams of Canadian boys playing Canada’s game. It isn’t really about being Indian or cowboy,” said Braniff.
To add to the excitement of the night, Fred Sasakamoose, the first Aboriginal Canadian player in the NHL and NHL Hall of Famer, was present for the game.
“It was so awesome to have him here. What an honour,” Braniff said.
Having Sasakamoose there during the game added to the excitement in the arena and to the players on the ice, said Braniff.
“Not that we need it, but having him come lends credibility to the game,” he said.
Sasakamoose, himself, said he was honoured to be at the game, saying he had never seen anything like it before.
“It shows that times are changing and we can work together,” Sasakamoose said.
After the game finished, with the cowboys winning for the first time in three years 10-8, beer gardens opened run by the senior Hawks.
“The game helps a lot of people. The beer gardens will help our senior team in their next season,” Braniff said.