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‘It was completely heartwarming’: A good old hockey game for Lethbridge Hurricanes fan

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WATCH ABOVE: With the help of the Lethbridge Hurricanes, the soup kitchen and a little community spirit, a Lethbridge man's dream of becoming a season ticket holder came true. Jessica Robb has the story – Oct 15, 2021

A Lethbridge Hurricanes superfan who spent an hours walking to and from games whenever he could afford a ticket is now a proud season ticket holder thanks to the team, a scout and the Lethbridge Soup Kitchen.

Bill Vanderleest is a huge sports fan, but attending games wasn’t always an option.

Read more: Lethbridge Hurricanes prepare to open WHL season under more normal circumstances

A few years ago, he was using the Lethbridge Soup Kitchen and working with the city’s Clean Sweep Program, a program dedicated to giving those who need work a job, while keeping the streets of Lethbridge clean.

“I do a lot of walking. I walk everyday,” he said. “I’d walk from downtown all the way here. Minus 30 below. But sometimes I’d take the bus back, on a real cold night.”

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Bill Ginther, executive director of the Lethbridge Soup Kitchen, met Vanderleest four years ago. He had heard about the long walks Vanderleest would take on game night, and wondered if there was anything the Hurricanes could do.

In 2019 he planted the idea in the Hurricanes’ heads. But in 2020, the season was postponed due to the pandemic and games weren’t happening.

“First thing this season I was here and said. ‘Hmm, what about that ticket?'” said Ginther. “And of course it didn’t take very long because the Hurricanes staff were very willing to do this.”

Read more: More than $10K raised for Lethbridge Soup Kitchen after funding decline

Tamara Nelson is an account executive with the Lethbridge Hurricanes. She said corporations, or even individuals, will buy tickets and donate them to the club to give out to people who wouldn’t normally be able to attend a game.

“We thought it was a really, really great opportunity for us to help someone out in our community,” she said. “And that’s really important to the Lethbridge Hurricanes, is giving back to our community.”

Todd Hassan, a scout, purchases a season ticket every year for the club to give away.

This year, that ticket went to Vanderleest.

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“I was a little bit in tears,” Vanderleest said. “I was happy, you know? Very happy.”

“It was just a perfect fit,” said Ginther. “[Vanderleest] wanting to be here at every game and not being able to afford that, and now he can come.”

Read more: COVID-19: ENMAX Centre and all City of Lethbridge arenas to require proof of vaccination

The Hurricanes hosted their home opener against the Calgary Hitmen on Oct. 1. Ginther went to the game, and made sure to stop by to see Vanderleest.

“The first thing I remember [Vanderleest] saying is, ‘I’m going to sit in this seat every game,'” Ginther said. “Yeah, that felt good.”

Nelson also remembers seeing Vanderleest sitting in his seat during the game.

“It was completely heartwarming,” she said. “I’m emotional just talking about it. He is very well known by our season ticket holders because he’s attended so many games over the years.

“So many of them had come up to me after to say how they loved to see Bill in his own seat.”

Photo of Vanderleest at the Lethbridge Hurricanes home opener. Facebook/Lethbridge Soup Kitchen

Ginther posted a photo of Vanderleest at the game on the Lethbridge Soup Kitchen Facebook page. It’s received over 300 likes. So, Ginther made another post. He figured if Vanderleest was going to every game, he should have a jersey.

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Minutes after posting, Public Image Co. offered to buy the Hurricanes jersey.

It’s the first hockey jersey Vanderleest has ever owned.

“I feel like I’m one of the players,” he laughed, looking down at his jersey. “No no, I’m just joking.”

“It’s little things like that that we can do in the lives of people who don’t have what we do,” said Ginther. “It makes a big difference.”

Today, Vanderleest doesn’t attend the soup kitchen. He has a place of his own and is working.

“I’m always happiest when people don’t come back,” laughed Ginther. “And what I mean by that is that they are now independent. They can have their own lives, their own homes, their own apartment.”

If you’re interested in purchasing a ticket, or season tickets, to be donated to a charitable organization, call the Lethbridge Hurricanes office.

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