Shaunavon, Sask., will play host to the CBC's fifth annual Hockey Day in Canada celebration, but when the Calgary Flames' Rhett Warrener was asked to describe growing up in the small farming community just south and west of Swift Current, he rolled his eyes in amusement.
"I didn't grow up in Shaunavon," Warrener answered. "I grew up in Frontier. It's half an hour away."
It turns out the confusion stems from the fact that the only hospital in the area is in Shaunavon, so pretty much any player -- or any person -- born in that part of the province is listed as from Shaunavon, even if he didn't actually live there.
This is why Warrener, who is listed as being from Shaunavon in the National Hockey League's player directory, reacts in amusement each time he's been asked for anecdotal memories of his hometown this week.
As interest in the Hockey Day in Canada phenomenon grows every year, Shaunavon is getting its 15 minutes of fame this weekend.
The CBC will air a feature on arguably its most famous current NHL alumnus, the Ottawa Senators' Shaun Van Allen, in the second intermission of the opening game of today's tripleheader. Van Allen has a two-year-old son with autism, while his brother Troy (a standout hockey player in his own right who still lives in Shaunavon) is paralyzed from the waist down after a car accident.
Even so, as the two brothers tell their story, it is clear they share a healthy enthusiasm for life. It is the sort of heartwarming story that Hockey Night tells very well and it is repeated in a number of other segments: from a profile of the Flanagan family of Stratford, Ont., who run the Stratford Cullitons Junior B team, to a feature on the Brumwells, the sons of former NHL player Murray Brumwell, who grew up in Billings, Mont., but played much of their minor hockey in Eastend, Sask., and made the four-hour drive almost every winter weekend for close to a decade.
All of these towns -- Shaunavon, Eastend, Climax, Frontier and Cadillac -- are clustered in a small, tight area south of the Trans-Canada Highway, north of the Montana border and west of Highway 13.
Beyond Van Allen, Shaunavon also produced Braydon Coburn of the Portland Winter Hawks, the eighth player chosen in the 2003 entry draft and a player the Atlanta Thrashers believe will ultimately anchor their defence corps. Then there is Hayley Wickenheiser, considered by many to be the best female hockey player in the world.
Wickenheiser did grow up in Shaunavon, which she describes as "essentially, a grain-farming community of about 1,800 people right now. The oil fields are a big part of the economy as well. Farming and oil, I think, is it.
"There's a hockey rink and a curling rink, two schools, Catholic and public, and a high school. Over all, it's a pretty quiet community. On weekends, everything is based around the arena. You get the kids cruising up and down Main Street, flipping the half-turn at the end. That's the cool thing to do when you get into high school.
"It's a pretty quiet place right now. It was a lot busier when I grew up there."
As for its ability to produce hockey talent, Wickenheiser said: "It's amazing, the number of good players who've come from there and the surrounding area -- Frontier, Cadillac. Braydon Coburn is a few years younger than me, but I remember him. There are players who've gone on to play in the Western League and semi-pro, like J. J. Hunter, who plays for the Toronto Roadrunners.
"I just think it's just because there's nothing else to do. Playing hockey, that's what everybody did."
There is a perception that growing up in small-town Saskatchewan means players spent endless hours on outdoor ponds and sloughs, honing their hockey skills. According to Warrener, that is no longer the case.
Even though he estimates only about 500 people live in Frontier these days, he says life in the winter revolves around the recreation centre, which he describes as "a real nice facility" and "unbelievable" for a community of that size.
"There were a couple of curling rinks and an arcade and a bowling alley and mini-putt and then there was the rink," Warrener said. "At that time, back in the day, for a town that small, it was a pretty major facility and certainly the focal point of the community."
As for the myth that Prairie farm boys spent all of their time playing outdoors, Warrener said: "Sure, you played outside some of the time, but never a real game, just shinny. The thing is, we were always able to get indoor ice whenever you wanted to. You could play for two teams back then, so you were pretty much on the ice all week. You didn't need to play outdoors that much."