‘Fire in the belly’

Former NHL star talks junior hockey, love of the game during 100 Mile visit

100 Mile House hockey player Sydni Poggenpohl

100 Mile House hockey player Sydni Poggenpohl

Local hockey fans met an NHL great ahead of the 100 Mile House Wranglers home opener on Sept. 19.

Cliff Ronning, a Burnaby-born forward, played five of his 20 seasons in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks, including the team’s Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1994.

Ronning dropped the puck at the South Cariboo Rec. Centre when the Wranglers hosted the Summerland Steam.

In the early 80s, before he was drafted by the St. Louis Blues, Ronning was a Western Hockey League [WHL] star and midget hockey national champion.

He says, compared to his playing days, junior hockey in Canada, at every level, is a step better.

“Junior B now is like the British Columbia Hockey League [Junior A] when I played, and the BCHL is like the WHL. You look at the bantam kids and they’re playing like midget players. It goes all the way down. The talent level is amazing.”

While he always had a great scoring touch, Ronning, standing 5 feet 8, was also always one of the smaller guys on the ice. He says the thing that comes up the most talking with young hockey players are the ups and downs of trying to get to the professional level.

“I think it’s really the fire in the belly that determines whether you’re going to keep going and playing at higher levels. I had that. I used other people telling me I was too small…as fuel for me to try even harder.”

Ronning retired from the NHL in 2004. He says he’s really enjoying life since then. Four year ago he started a company, BASE Hockey, which builds customized hockey sticks.

The former Canuck spent hours inside the 100 Mile House Curling Club working with Wranglers and other local talents on their shooting technique.

“It’s fulfilling being an ex-player and being able to pass on proper knowledge,” he says. “I think the biggest thing [for local people to know] is really cheer on your Wranglers. I think it’s a great environment here. We go around and see a lot of junior teams. I know [Wranglers coach Dale Hladun] will have this place rocking. I’ve known him for a long time and I know he has a lot of passion to help these kids get to the next level.”