‘It saved days and days of work’: Hay River hockey players praised for helping flood victims

When Mitchell Touesnard returned to his flooded home in Hay River, Northwest Territories, he discovered a damaged basement that would turn into a big cleanup job.

But with a supportive community like Hay River, the only tools he needed to get the job done were Rusty Blades.

Hay River Rusty Blades Old Timers Hockey Club stepped in to help victims whose homes were impacted when the town of nearly 4,000 was ordered to evacuate in the middle of the night earlier this month .

“It saved days and days of work,” Touesnard said of the hockey players’ help.

“They were absolutely amazing.”

Members of the Rusty Blades were on Cranberry Crescent, going from house to house shortly after the fellowship returned. While there they ripped up floors, drywall and aired out water damage.

Mitchell Touesnard stands in his basement in Hay River which was flooded. He thanked the Rusty Blades volunteers who helped him pull out all the flood-damaged gear. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

Jeff Boyce is the president of the Rusty Blades and one of those who help the community.

He told Loren McGinnis, host of CBC’s The Trailbreaker, that the mission began as a way to help league members whose homes were affected, but expanded to help the community at large.

A mass email to the league produced around 18 players – a third of the league – on the very first day.

The team includes a plumber, a carpenter and some engineers.

“We all know these people, they all live in our community,” Boyce said.

“We just kind of made a plan to do what we could do.”

Touesnard was living in Halifax when Hurricane Juan hit in 2003. This massive storm left extensive damage and required a community effort to repair. But he said the way Hay River recovered after the flooding surpassed that response.

Changing room seven

Boyce said that while it was hard to see his community so damaged, he and his fellow league members appreciated the opportunity to spend time together.

“We had a few silent laughs, a few silent laughs, had a few cocktails after work,” he said.

Thinking back to a favorite memory from the experience, Boyce said the first house they worked on had a wood stove in the garage. Later that week, this garage became an impromptu hangout for hockey players-turned-wreckers.

The garage became known as locker room seven, a reference to the fact that the team uses locker rooms five and six at the Hay River Arena.

Boyce said some of the flood victims didn’t know where to start but got lucky when the Rusty Blades appeared.

“Some of the owners, literally, were, ‘I don’t know what to do here,’ and I guess we kind of guided them.”

Maria D. Ervin