Hockey, community, and history all combined for the biggest event of the year at the Maple Creek Community Arena.
The Battle of the Little Big Puck brought in attendees from across the province and abroad. This game marked the 40th anniversary of the event. The surge in spectators left no seat unladen and almost no spare floor space for the standing observer.
Four decades of hockey and community were on display on the ice, with the historical format of the game still going strong.
For Maple Creek's Mayor, Michelle McKenzie, the game being more popular than ever is a sign that they are on to something hard to replicate.
"I'm pretty proud because this event is unique, and other people want to try at least and do it, but they will never get there," said McKenzie. "The reason why is because over the past 40 years, between the two cultures, there's so much respect and understanding that's passed on from generation to generation. It's going to continue for the next generation because everybody on both sides of that team are going to continue to do this, and you don't get that anywhere else."
For the uninitiated, the Battle of the Little Big Puck began when members of the Nekaneet First Nation and others from the local Rodeo Association were having a few refreshments together. Eventually, the topic drifted to hockey and who would be better as a group. They gathered their fellows to match up for a hockey game to settle who was the better squad. Thus, the Battle of the Little Big Puck began its still-standing motif of Cowboys vs Indians.
To this day, teams consist solely of members of the Nekaneet First Nation and actual cowboys with rodeo cards.
For those who think that the term 'Cowboys vs Indians' could be problematic, know the participants themselves would never want it changed. They feel it lends a unique energy to the night.
One of those participants is Dale Mosquito, an organizer for the event who has been playing for the Indians for decades now.
"You're gonna hear a lot of definitions, a lot of quotes, but I say when you're out there, you can feel the energy," said Mosquito. "The people out there feel that same energy, and the kids feed off that too."
For the first two periods, the teams play an honest game. The score gets tracked, and the players obey the no-hitting rules while trying to maintain a fair bit of competition. After all these years, the game's point is a friendly competition that should unite more than it divides.
"There's probably one kid with the elbows on the seal there and looking out to the ice saying, 'Hey, I want to be like that guy.'," said Mosquito. "For me, that drives me to keep this game on the ground, for that young hockey player."
By the third period, the real show begins. Both sides come out in traditional costumes, and the Indians do a ceremonial drum and song. For 19 minutes, these two teams play all out in these heavy costumes, skating hard and shooting sharp.
The final minute sees both teams clear the bench and take to the ice as hundreds of pucks get dumped on the ice. At the end of the night, the score is less important than the sense of community the match fosters.
This year, the money raised by the event went towards Sandy Cooper-Black. The young bull rider suffered a spinal injury last year and is undergoing continued treatment and care.
The example they set is one they are proud of. This game highlights the day-to-day atmosphere found in the community in Maple Creek. The town shares a proud history with both their European and Indigenous members. Together, they have embraced each other's differences to build one of the most united communities in Canada. They celebrate their differences, like in the Battle of the Little Big Puck, and elevate each other's uniqueness and cultures. Respect goes both ways, and they are able to present it in events like this for the world to see.