January 1, 2021
Forty years ago this month, the home of the inaugural CCAA National Hockey Champions hosted the first Viking Cup International Hockey Tournament which now includes over 200 NHLers and over 100 Olympians among its alumni.
In a span of 25 years, the settlement originally known as Stoney Creek experienced growth and change. The population of the City of Camrose increased from 12,570 in 1981 to 15,720 in 2006. During the same period, Camrose Lutheran College transformed into the University of Alberta's Augustana Campus while the Camrose Recreation Centre was renamed Max McLean Arena and hosted the Viking Cup on 14 occasions.
While the majority of the Viking Cup games were in Camrose, some were in Wetaskiwin. Beyond the epicenter, a number of cities and towns in the four western provinces welcomed European teams in exhibition games. For many of these communities, it was their first exposure to international hockey.
For a number of players, coaches and officials, their first international hockey experience occurred at the Viking Cup. A contingent of Viking Cup alumni would later don their nation's jersey and make their mark the World Junior Hockey Championships, the World Hockey Championships and/or the Winter Olympic Games.
In the formative years, a number of junior teams built upon their Viking Cup experience earlier in the campaign to win national titles to cap the season. The Prince Albert Raiders captured the Centennial Cup in 1981 and 1982. In 1984, the St. Paul Vulcans and IFK Helsinki became United States Hockey League and U20 SM-Liiga champions respectively.
One post secondary team, the NAIT Ooks, defeated the eventual Canadian Interuniversaty Athletic Union (now U Sports) champions on their way to a pair of Canadian Colleges Athletic Association (CCAA) gold medal performances after taking part in Viking Cup '86 and Viking Cup '92.
The Ooks also hold the distinction being the only back to back Viking Cup champions. In between triumphs at Viking Cup '84 and Viking Cup '86, the 1984-85 squad posted 33 victories which is the most of the five men's varsity national hockey champions from the NCAA, U Sports, and the CCAA to win all their regular season and post season games.
The host Vikings are a longtime rival of the Ooks and often travelled across the Atlantic for an exhibition tour in the year between the biennial event. For many team members on the Vikings, it was their first trip to Europe. Similarly, for many European participants, their first journey to North America was to participate in the Viking Cup.
In the years that followed their Viking Cup experience, a portion of European alumni opted to continue their hockey sojourn in North America just as a portion of the North American alumni opted to continue their hockey sojourn in Europe. While most returned to their continent of their raising as time passed, some decided to stay across the pond. Others remained close to home throughout their hockey sojourn.
After playing careers ended, many participants stepped behind the bench or upstairs. The transfer of knowledge and impact on the game continues to this day.
While hockey brought teams from 10 current nations to the Viking Cup, the billeting of team members with families in and around the host communities brought about a better understanding of different cultures. Friendships developed and lasted.