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Fort Macleod Minor Hockey names new award for long-time coach

Fort Macleod Minor Hockey has established a new award for its top volunteers, named in memory of former coach and volunteer Merv Friesen.

Fort Macleod Minor Hockey has created a new award in memory of a long-time volunteer.

The Merv Friesen Volunteer of the Year Award will be presented to someone who has made an outstanding contribution to Minor Hockey as a team official, administrator, board member, volunteer or time keeper.

The award is named for former Minor Hockey coach and volunteer Merv Friesen, who died in February 2019, and was to be presented Wednesday, March 25 during the annual celebration at the Empress Theatre.

“Even though Dad often downplayed his contributions to Minor Hockey when we’d bring it up, he often said those were the best years,” Friesen’s son Corey said in an interview. “It was a huge part of his life.”

Corey, who now lives in Vancouver, was coming to Fort Macleod to present the award tonight until the ceremony was cancelled due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

“As a family we can’t say enough good things about the community in Fort Macleod and how grateful that we are,” Corey Friesen said, crediting Brenda Vandervalk for her work to establish the award.

Merv Friesen became a coach in 1975 after he was approached by Bruce Friesen and Brian Gervais, who said Minor Hockey needed someone to run the Bantam team.

“I think after my uncles pressured him into it, he was hooked,” Corey Friesen said. “He loved the social interactions. He could talk with anyone and always had time for you. My mom can still recall how it would take hours to get home following a game because he had to chat with every single parents and often even the opposing team’s parents.”

Merv Friesen continued coaching Fort Macleod teams and stayed with it when his sons Corey and Kyle took up the game. His involvement totalled about 21 years.

When Friesen wasn’t coaching he was serving as Minor Hockey president, volunteering on the Fort Macleod Recreation Board and coaching Little League. He also worked on the project to get the new arena built.

“He always told me kids who have the facilities and support to play sports stay out of trouble,” Corey Friesen said. “I honestly think he just loved it and poured himself into anything with Minor Hockey or Little League.”

Corey recalls his father working the phone at home, scheduling games and tournaments and calling parents to let them know what was planned.

Friesen organized raffles, 50-50 volunteers, had trophies and programs made and booked referees.

“My mom remembers his attention to detail was unmatched,” Corey said. “He always thought of everything. Many nights she’d hear him at the dining table at 3 a.m., still writing notes and planning.”

Merv Friesen always gave credit to the men he coached with for making his job easy, including Jack Murphy, Stu Reed, Jerry Widmer, Rod Grant, Rick Randle and others.

“Fort Macleod was an amazing place and it truly was a village of amazingly dedicated parents who were always there to help, like Teddy Larson, Paul Foreman and Bob Hardy doing timekeeping, or Linda Cooper up with a cowbell and doing 50-50,” Corey said. “It was a giant team effort and I know he would be the first to give credit to everyone else.”

Merv Friesen celebrated at the end of every season by making personalized plaques for each player, staining the wood and having a plate engraved with their names and statistics.

He sometimes made year-end programs featuring his own hand-drawn cartoons to make people laugh.

“He knew the fine line of keeping kids humble, and he never let any one kid get too high or too low,” Corey said. “He gave everyone a nickname.”

With a big booming laugh and being comfortable with public speaking, Friesen loved to give speeches which usually made fun of all of his players without causing offence, instead cracking them up with laughter.

When he wasn’t working on behalf of Fort Macleod’s youth, Friesen played commercial hockey with the A&W Root Bears, men’s slowpitch with the Cobras and golfed.

Merv Friesen, who was a realtor for McNab Realty and had a cap and silk screen business, made an impression on the young people he coached, many of whom sent messages while their former coach was battling the cancer that took his life.

“He always made sports fun, and he loved nothing more than teasing us or getting a big laugh,” Corey said. “As many of Dad’s old work colleagues pointed out to me, he always looked after his staff and was always full of jokes. He enjoyed making people laugh and brightening up their day.”

Eric Hardy wrote that he doesn’t have many memories of his early hockey days that don’t involve Merv Friesen.

Brad Dersch wrote that Merv’s passion for the game was infectious and he instilled his love for hockey in his players.

“The man cared, he loved the game, and he made it a great experience for the kids,” Dersch wrote. “I’ll be forever grateful for him.”

Ryan Foreman remembers Merv Friesen as the face of Fort Macleod Minor Hockey. “Grateful to have had Merv in our young lives making us laugh and teaching us life lessons.” 

Wes Widmer, recalling the squeaky Lange skates Friesen wore, called his old coach a legend in Fort Macleod. “As kids, we don’t appreciate the time commitment our parents put into coaching, practices, planning tournaments, travel etc.  However, now we’re older and with kids involved in sports, there is a newfound appreciation . . . very grateful to have Merv in our lives.”

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