INNISFAIL – Shortly before 8 p.m. on Nov. 4 the long slow legato blast of bagpipes filled the blue rink of the Innisfail Twin Arena.
Innisfailian Bryn Chambers, a bagpiper with the Red Deer Pipe Band, led a procession around the rink towards the players’ benches.
Once they were there, several members of the Red Deer chapter of the Canada-wide UN NATO Veterans Association stepped onto a red carpet that was draped across the ice in front of the Innisfail Eagles’ players’ bench.
They were soon joined by the captains of the local Eagles and Stony Plain Eagles who were scheduled that night to play a senior men's AAA Chinook Hockey League game, which was ultimately won by Innisfail by a score of 8 – 5.
Robert Crites was one of the attending UN NATO Veterans Association members.
It was a special night for him and fellow association members.
The retired 66-year-old Canadian Army veteran was chosen for this year’s special salute at the Innisfail Eagles’ annual Veterans Appreciation Night.
Crites, who now lives in Penhold, served 22 years, including tours in Cyprus and Germany. He officially retired from military service in 1998.
As the two hockey captains lined up for the ceremonial drop of the puck, Crites, who was proudly wearing five medals across his UN NATO Veterans Association vest - including one for peacekeeping and a Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers - stood proudly and humbly between them.
“I feel honoured. I feel honoured just to represent other veterans,” Crites told the Albertan before the pre-game on-ice ceremony, which lasted about 20 minutes. “I served my country. I enjoyed my time with the military. I could not ask for anything better.”
Innisfail’s Mike Barclay, a retired veteran and member of the UN NATO Veterans Association, said Crites was selected not only because of his exemplary military service but also because of his commitment as a volunteer bus driver for both the Innisfail legion and local Eagles hockey club.
“He actually drove the team bus for them before and I figured this would be perfect for Bob to be honoured and then it gives us exposure for our group, UN NATO veterans, because nobody knows who we are,” said Barclay. “The Eagles want to honour their local veterans. We’ve worked together before.
“I will work with their management, and we'll get a local veteran to work hand-in-hand together to give them the opportunity,” he added. “I will provide a name and a body and we'll work together for community spirit and community pride.”
And for Innisfail Eagles Hockey Club members, the annual veterans salute is another way to give back to community; a chance to honour cherished heroes leading up to Remembrance Day.
“It's a tradition that we've had for years, and a way to show our appreciation for what veterans did,” said Vern Loughlean, a board member with hockey club. He added the annual Veterans Appreciation Night has been held for about 15 years.
“We feel it is very important to support them.”