Larry Wintoneak is not only coach and general manager of the Kindersley Klippers, he is also chief cook, bottle washer and bus driver -- yes, bus driver.
Wintoneak has been hauling his team -- displaced in Kindersley ever since a fire on Jan. 8 gutted their home rink -- out to nearby Eston for morning practices on non-game days. Each morning, the Klippers depart Kindersley at 8:30 a.m. to arrive in Eston for a 10 a.m. practice.
"We have a bus, a smaller school bus that I drive," Wintoneak explained Tuesday from a temporary office in the Town of Kindersley community centre. "Yes, sir, it's added to my resume. No complaints. We realize what has happened to the community here. We just go about doing our own business."
"We have to get back before 1 p.m. so the guys can go to school," noted Wintoneak. "It works out."
Ever since the fire left them homeless, the Klippers have gone on to hold their own in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League's Sherwood Conference. They currently sport a 26-16-3-3 record and 58 points. Playing all their home games at Eston, the Klippers have not missed a beat.
"It's been pretty good," said Wintoneak. "If you look at our record, we've played six games there (Eston) and we've gotten 11 points out of 12. We lost in overtime in Melfort. It hasn't hurt us. Our fan base, actually, has been pretty solid.
"We had 568 (fans for Monday night's game versus the Nipawin Hawks) -- that's pretty good."
Wintoneak says he doesn't expect his team to return to the West Central Events Centre this season -- the team has already submitted its ice-rental request for the playoffs -- so Eston is the Klippers' second home.
"The town of Eston has embraced us," said Wintoneak. "That's our home away from home and we understand that. It was right from the get-go. It took us maybe one day, I would think, after the fire to get organized and these people opened up their community."
The Eston Ramblers senior team has been a tremendous help, Wintoneak adds.
"They've basically given their dressing room to us, which, I think, is a real nice thing. It makes a difference of feeling at home because it has stalls, a little private area, and it's a pretty good little senior room."
Wintoneak says the Eston rink has seating for about 850 fans -- 1,200 if you include standing room. A few years ago, the Klippers moved a playoff game with Humboldt out to Eston after the ice plant in Kindersley went down.
"It's not the first time," noted Wintoneak, "that the Klippers have been there on kind of an emergency basis."
The fans have followed the Klippers out to Eston. At first, the team supplied a bus (no, Wintoneak was not driving that one) to take fans from Kindersley out to Eston, but team management realized that it would become too costly of a venture, if continued.
"We had been trying to help our fans out, but it's a cost, obviously," said Wintoneak. "We have to watch our pennies, too. The revenue might be down a little bit. The cost to travel now, with fuel and little incidentals, it's going to take its toll over the course."
For now, however, the Klippers have stayed the course and Eston suits them just fine.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Humboldt Broncos forward Justin Buzzeo, who led all SJHL players with five goals and two assists in three games this past week, is the SJHL player of the week. Despite a pair of losses to end the week, the Windsor, Ont., native scored all three of Humboldt's goals. He began the week with a four-point performance in a blowout win over La Ronge.
Blaine Tendler of the Yorkton Terriers is the SJHL defenceman of the week. The 1990-born D-man from Viceroy helped the Terriers earn a split in Flin Flon over the weekend by contributing a goal and two assists in two games played. Tendler, a Western Hockey League veteran who joined Yorkton in December, now has one goal and six assists in 19 games.
The SJHL goalie of the week is AJ Whiffen of the Weyburn Red Wings. The 1989-born Newfoundland native backstopped his team to a 3-1 win over the La Ronge Ice Wolves with 30 saves. Whiffen lowered his regular-season goals-against average to 2.24 and increased his save-percentage to .922. Overall, his record is 18-3-3. Since Dec. 1, Whiffen has been close to unbeatable, with a sparkling 1.48 GAA and a .944 save percentage.