I remember the first time I met Roland Blackburn. I was working as a reporter for the Morinville Mirror and Roland was looking to raise the profile of the Morinville Jets. There wasn’t a lot of hockey coverage in the local papers in those days other than the annual pictorial parade of team photos that is Minor Hockey Week. Roland and his brother Dan were looking to build on the work of those that came before them and make the Jets a force to be reckoned with within the Capital Junior Hockey League (CJHL). Roland’s mission was to see if the paper would consider covering Jets games and reporting the results to readers of the paper. A sports section was born despite the fact that when I started covering the Jets in this town I didn’t know a powerplay from a puck. Roland and Dan Blackburn changed all that.
Over the past five years of working with the Blackburn boys covering Jets’ hockey, I’ve developed a true love of the game, but my enthusiasm for the supremacy of Morinville’s team pales in comparison to the love Roland and Dan Blackburn have for the Jets, a team their father started back in the late 1970s.
That era comes to an end this week with the Jets’ annual year-end wrap up dinner and awards night. Roland and Dan will hang up their direct involvement with the team with that dinner, turning the reins over to a new crew to lead the Jets in the next leg of their journey.
Like any volunteer organization, people seldom see what goes on behind the scenes. In the case of hockey, the fans come for the game and that game takes place on the ice, a frozen field that separates the fan from the workers on the other side of the arena. But putting and keeping a Junior B team on the ice takes a hell of a lot of work and a hell of a lot of dedication. Someone needs to spend countless weekends sitting in cold arenas scouting the best and brightest players, encouraging them to come to Morinville rather than one of the larger communities. Someone needs to make sure those players have a place to live. Someone has to make sure that rink boards, banners and other signs are sold, that 50/50 draws take place, that funds are raised through silent auctions and other activities to keep the Jets on the ice at home and on the road. And while the Blackburn brothers are not alone in that mission or that role, it’s been Roland and Dan that more often than not have been the two sticks rubbing together to ignite the spark.
Whether you are a Jets fan or even a hockey fan, Morinville owes a debt of gratitude to the brothers Blackburn, two men who have given freely of their time and talents to something they believe in, a hockey team that travels the Capital Region carrying the name of this community on their chests while carrying the message that Morinville is more than capable of competing in the big leagues.
And while we’re certain that message will remain the same when new blood takes over the reins next season, the organization will miss the Blackburn touch. Thankfully, we can count on Roland and Dan sitting in the stands with their dad, Roger, rooting for their team from the other side of the ice.
Once a Jets fan, always a Jets fan.