Former St. Louis Blues prospect Stephen Wagner grew up on the rinks in Maskwacis and knows what being crowned Kraft Hockeyville would mean to his home town.
“This community lives and breathes hockey,” said Wagner, a star goalie who was drafted by the NHL’s Blues in 1996.
“I remember growing up, we were always involved in hockey,” he said.
“Hockey is a big family thing. You have a family at home but then you also have a family at the rink.”
Maskwacis has struggled with high unemployment and youth gangs and Wagner sees hockey as a positive diversion for youngsters.
“If you’re going to that rink each and every day and you meet with that family, guess what, you’re also staying out of trouble,” he said on Friday.
“That’s where I see this rink and the potential impact, especially for the youth,” he said following a booster event to encourage the community to vote for Neyaskweyahk Arena in this year’s Kraft Hockeyville competition.
Wagner, 40, said Maskwacis always meant a lot to him as his puck-stopping skills took him to teams in Ponoka, Leduc and Olds, the University of Denver and the minor pro leagues.
“(Maskwacis) has always been home. When I was growing up I always wanted to make my home proud.
“The older I got, the more motivated I got as well. There’s always that stereotype. You always want to beat the stereotype.”
Wagner never got to play in the NHL. He chose to go to college on a scholarship and graduated with a business degree.
After college, he attended Blues training camp and got to rub shoulders with stars like defenceman Chris Pronger, before spending four years playing minor pro.
As a senior hockey player, he went to the Allan Cup twice.
Wagner is now human resource manager for Samson Management and continues to work in the community where he grew up.