Chris Earle grew up in Newfoundland and Labrador idolizing Wayne Gretzky while Adam Knopp chased similar dreams of NHL stardom on rinks and ponds in northern British Columbia.

They play on the same team in the Fort McMurray, Alta., men’s league but faced off against each other in the return of the President’s Cup Hockey Challenge at Centerfire Place arena on October 20. 

“Chris is a very talented player, so it was a lot of fun,” says Adam, who captained the Blades in the game against the Bison to raise money for the United Way Fort McMurray and Wood Buffalo. “Getting an opportunity to be a part of this game is something I don’t take for granted.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic had cancelled the last two editions of the annual hockey game between teams from Syncrude and Suncor, who face off against each other to raise money for the companies’ United Way campaigns. 

“I appreciate the opportunity to give back to the community through the United Way. It’s a fun event for the community to get together and support that important work,” says Chris, Plant Shift Superintendent at Mildred Lake Conversion. “Being a part of this game and putting in time with the team is just a small gesture of how much the United Way means to my family and the community.” 

Chris’ children Max, who celebrated his 11th birthday watching the game, and Charley were joined in the stands by Adam’s son Lucas and daughter Nora to watch the game. 

“We know the importance of the United Way in this community and the positive impact of these big fundraising events. My wife Kalie works as a registered nurse at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre and witnesses the benefits delivered by the United Way and the agencies it supports,” says Adam, an Emergency Services Responder at Base Plant. “I had the opportunity to play in the 2019 game and was excited to be back on the ice this year.” 

Both Chris and Adam still enjoy the competition. 

The winning team, the Suncor Blades, pose in their jerseys with the cup
The winning team, the Suncor Blades, pose with the President's Cup.

“There are definitely bragging rights involved in the game to keep it competitive. A lot of the players are already involved in teams in the men’s league in Fort McMurray,” says Chris, who joined Syncrude in 2008. 

Adam, who began working at Base Plant in 2017, enjoyed the opportunity to meet new people through the practice skates leading up to the game. “The players work in different areas across Base Plant, so I got meet a lot of people I normally don’t interact with by getting involved with the team,” says Adam, who played junior hockey and at college in the United States before training to become a firefighter and paramedic.  

In the end, the Blades won the game 6 - 3 but that wasn’t the most important figure of the night. 

“The big winner was the United Way and the organizations it supports, who will receive $13,167.10,” Chris says. “That’s why we play this game.”