Juneau and Whitehorse have had official ties with each other for 30 years — the two became “sister cities” in 1989.
With the establishment of the Rainforest Classic Old Timers Hockey Tournament in 2003, the two communities found a new avenue for social and cultural exchange.
Whitehorse’s Blaine Demchuk has played in 13 of the past 16 Rainforest Tournaments, and played in all but one of the Sister City exhibitions, the tournament’s opening game played on Thursday night. Juneau defeated Whitehorse 6-5 on Thursday night for its fourth consecutive Sister City title. Over half of the Whitehorse team was still en route to Juneau when the puck dropped just before 7 p.m. having been stranded in Skagway with the ferry trips put on hold.
“It’s our Rendezvous Days during this weekend, so Friday’s always a holiday,” Demchuk said. “So that’s why it’s great to play it on Thursday night for us.”
Demchuk has won numerous Rainforest titles as a member of the Whitehorse R.A.T.S. (Really Anything That Skates) since the team’s inaugural tournament appearance in 2005. The R.A.T.S. formed about 25 years ago and is made up of longtime hockey players from the Yukon. Demchuk tries not to miss the Rainforest.
“Everyone’s so receptive to everyone here,” Demchuk said. “(The) Old Timers (Tournament) should be recreation and fun, and it has been, it’s stood the test of time. Beer’s fun afterwards. Every establishment we’ve come to they’ve treated us like so nice. It’s too bad there’s so many bars because we’d like to spend more time in some of them because everyone’s so good to us.”
Juneau adult hockey player Bob Bartholomew is another regular participant in the exhibition between Juneau and Whitehorse.
“I’m a huge fan of neighbors,” Bartholomew said. “Neighbors are important — and they’re our neighbor. We may need them. When you overfly Juneau and need an international airport, (you) go to Whitehorse. So we should have an awesome relationship with them.”
Allan Alcancia, Juneau Sister Cities Committee member, thinks the game was started six or seven years ago when a City and Borough of Juneau resolution gave the organization extra support.
“The Sister Cities Committee is like the quasi international relations arm of the CBJ Assembly,” Alcancia said. “We advise the committee on events, on protocol requirements, we function as an advisory-planning committee for the CBJ. So this is purely voluntary.”
Alcancia said he’s glad to see the game going strong — and hopes it continues well into the future.
“I think it’s very important to keep those lines of communication open and sports events highlight great sporting values and it’s great when kids see that,” Alcancia said. “It’s a great opportunity for adult hockey players to exhibit that for the younger generation to see it. The Juneau Sister Cities Committee I believe is a great gatekeeper of those relationships, that’s why I think it’s something that should continue.”
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or email@example.com. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.