By Pam Chamberlain
On February 19 – 20, Vikings hockey players, past and present, will gather in Camrose during the Vikings Hockey Alumni Weekend. For some, the weekend will be particularly special because playing for the team has become a family tradition! The Johnsons and the Skips will be in the stands, cheering on next-generation Vikings.
Harley Johnson, who grew up in Hanley, SK, played for the team in the historic 1974-75 season when the Vikings won their first national championship – for which they were later inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame. A few years later, Harley’s brother John joined the team as a defenceman. One of his teammates in the early 80s was goaltender Alan Skip, from Peace River country.
In addition to the prestigious Viking Cup tournaments, highlights for Harley, John, and Al included the team’s European tours, which took them to countries such as Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, and Russia. The team was one of the first non-Olympic hockey teams to be invited into the Communist Bloc. John recalls, “It was a big deal to go behind the Iron Curtain. We talked to the players through translators, and they would offer to buy our Levis, our skates … anything Western.”
Despite the excitement of tournaments overseas and at home, though, the three men most value their former teammates—“the boys,” as Harley calls them. “The camaraderie was amazing,” he says, “I’m still thankful for it.”
Al adds, “We grew up together, and our coach made us into young men.”
The former Vikes look forward to chatting with old friends and reminiscing about the past, but they also have their eyes on the future because another generation is now wearing the Viking uniform.
John’s son Joren Johnson (1st Year BA) played Junior hockey and had several options for university. Vikings head coach Blaine Gusdal had seen Joren’s performance, and when a spot for a defenceman opened up, the coach made an offer.
“I encouraged Joren to consider Augustana,” John says. “It’s a beautiful little campus. The atmosphere is personal, and the coaches and professors care about the players. The arena is stellar, the ACAC is a good league, and playing for the Vikings is a good building block for Joren’s career.”
Joren jumped at the opportunity. “My dad and my uncle had lots of great things to say about Augustana,” he explains, “so it was an easy decision.”
Joren says that playing for the Vikings is a privilege. “The best part of being on the team is the guys,” he says. “We are really close and have a great time playing hockey together.”
From his home in BC, John watches Joren’s games live online. “It’s a neat continuation to know your son has followed in your footsteps,” he says.
Uncle Harley concurs: “I’m pleased that Joren is continuing the tradition. I hope he’ll experience the amazing team camaraderie that we did back in the 70s. He will make friends now who will be there for him throughout his life.”
Alan Skip’s son Curtis (2nd Year BA) played goal for Canada’s silver-medal team in the World Junior A Challenge and was considering opportunities in the States when Coach Gusdal was looking for a goalie in 2015. “Curtis was already on our radar as a top choice,” the coach says, “and when I found out that his dad had played for the Vikings, I knew Curtis would be a great fit.”
Coach Gusdal made a recruitment offer, and for Curtis, the decision was clear. “I knew I could play a high level of hockey and get a great education at the same time.”
“It was Curt’s decision in the end,” Al says, “but I was happy with his choice. Augustana is a great school with small classes and a supportive community.” Al makes the drive from Grande Prairie to watch almost every game. “It’s neat to see Curt wearing the same colours I did.”
“My dad has always supported me and my hockey career,” Curtis says. “It’s an honour to pull on the same jersey he did, and it’s great to play for a team with such tradition.” In a tribute to his father, Curtis’s goalie mask depicts Al in his CLC Vikings jersey.
Coach Gusdal is looking forward to seeing the Skips, the Johnsons, and many more alumni families at the Vikings Hockey Alumni Weekend. “I know how proud parents like Al and John are of their kids,” he says. “This is going to be a very special weekend.”
For information about Vikings Hockey Alumni Weekend, contact Trina Harrison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 780-679-1105. To get involved in the new Viking Alumni Association, contact Tyler Bellamy at email@example.com.