The walls of Wayne March’s office overlooking the ice at the Sicamous and District Rec Centre are hung with jerseys, photographs and other memorabilia commemorating a long career and deep roots in the world of hockey.
From there, March oversaw the Sicamous Eagles Junior B team for 26 years.
March was the Eagles’ general manager from the team’s founding in 1994 and remains the manager of the arena where they play their home games. He was replaced as GM in early 2021.
After forming under March’s direction, the Eagles took a running start, winning the KIJHL championship in their first season and finishing as a close runner-up the following year. March said Sicamous saw a lot of great players come through the doors in the early days, partially because there were fewer junior teams vying for the top talent. He said at one time the Eagles’ selection camp would draw as many as 140 players.
March said recruiting fresh faces to the roster and training them up with the help of good coaches was essential, especially after winning seasons when the team’s best players were often picked up by higher leagues. He mentioned Blair Robinson, who coached the team for 18 years.
March reflected with pride on players like Shea Weber, Cody Franson and Deryk Engelland, who went on to the NHL after spending some time with an Eagles jersey on their back, and also players who found hockey opened doors to university and other opportunities. March said he still enjoys keeping in touch with past players, particularly those like Weber and Franson, whose families still live in the Sicamous area.
March recalls Weber was 15 or 16 years old when he was on the Eagles KIJHL-winning roster for the 2001/02 season. March said like other Eagles who went on to play professionally, his skill on the ice was immediately obvious. The leadership skills which led Weber to captain the Nashville Predators and Montreal Canadians in the NHL were still early in their development, and March described him as ‘young and a little nervous’, despite impressive on-ice performances with the Sicamous squad.
Weber, who is currently in the midst of his 16th NHL season, wished the outgoing GM and his former Junior B team all the best.
“I have known Wayne March for a long time growing up in Sicamous and also from my time with the Sicamous Eagles. Wayne has had a great impact on the community and on the team itself,” Weber said.
March said a lot has changed about Sicamous, The Eagles and the game of hockey.
In earlier years, March said fans would pack the stands for Eagles home games. Due to a more seasonal population in Sicamous, which March chalked up to the loss of local industries, the Eagles are happy when averaging 100 fans on the wooden bleachers overlooking the ice. March said the fans that do show are mainly die-hard regulars. The energy in the building can still be electric, especially when longtime rivals the Revelstoke Grizzlies make the trip to Sicamous.
March said the character of junior hockey has also changed. He recalled a time when looser rules led to a more physical game and the players on his rosters wore split lips and broken noses with pride.
“All they want now is kids who can figure skate and play hockey at the same time,” March joked.
With pride in his eyes, March recounted one away game in the 90s when Rene Roy, a young forward, had to lay in the aisle of the bus on the way to the game due to severe back pain but still suited up to play all three periods when the time came. March was sure to mention the young man’s toughness was matched with brains and hockey eventually took Roy to Harvard University where he studied medicine.
March’s wife Lorraine, who played a major role with the team and with the KIJHL as a whole, passed away following a battle with cancer in September 2018. Almost exactly a year before Lorraine’s passing, March’s assistant GM Don LaRoy had also passed from cancer. To commemorate the loss of two important figures for the team, March and the Eagles organized fundraisers that allowed them to donate $10,000 to the oncology unit at Salmon Arm’s hospital over two years.
Looking out the mezzanine window at the ice below, March said he will miss the people he worked with most as he leaves his posts with the team and as manager of the rec centre in a few months. He plans to enjoy his retirement as he said managing a junior hockey club left little time for vacations.