At the first ever Virden Oil Capitals Sportsman’s Dinner in the Sunrise Banquet Hall at Tundra Oil & Gas Place on Feb. 1, defencemen Trevor Hunt and David Bielik brought words of appreciation on behalf of the players to their fans, as well as the coaching staff, support staff, billets, volunteers and corporate partners who help keep the team on the ice.
“We want to thank everyone who makes this team possible. The Town of Virden and all our game day volunteers, your support means everything to us. Thanks for coming to our games and always making us feel at home in the community. We really enjoy volunteering at all the schools, day cares and community events in all the towns across the southwest region. We want to thank each and every one of our partners, without you we wouldn’t get to play the game we all love so much. We look forward to a successful rest of the season and a deep playoff run.”
Daren Millard, the evening’s guest speaker, loves hockey too and the former Brandonite relished the opportunity to return to Southwestern Manitoba and reconnect with friends and family. He took to the podium after the players introduced themselves and wasted no time pointing out their gaffes.
“Seriously, do you guys not know your numbers, or your positions,” he quipped to resounding laughter. “Two of you forgot your name.”
He even took a shot at their dress code.
“I don’t know what kind of flood you guys are expecting with the warmer weather, but cover up those ankles.”
All kidding aside, Millard reminisced fondly on his early professional life in Manitoba and Saskatchewan and shared insights, stories and humorous anecdotes from the world of hockey and his place in it. He began his tenure in sports broadcasting in 1990, covering the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League at CJVR Radio in Melfort, Sask. and followed that with stints in Portage la Prairie and Yorkton before returning home to Brandon to work at CKLQ (now Q Country 91.5) and the now-defunct CKX TV and at CKND (now Global) in Winnipeg.
“I learned a lot of great things from these guys,” Millard said of then Sports Director Darren Dreger at CKLQ and Gene Principe, with whom he co-hosted nightly half-hour sports show at CKND.
“Dreger was a real mentor to me. I lived with Gene and we hosted a half-hour show together. It was a lot of fun coming up through the ranks.”
In 1998, Millard joined Sportsnet, which put his career on a national stage for the next two decades.
“It was an all-time thrill of mine to be able to work in the National Hockey League (NHL) and be alongside the greats of the game,” he said.
Five years ago, Millard relocated to the United States, where he took up a position on the broadcast team of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights. He took note of the stark contrast to the work he had done in Canada.
“In network TV, you do your game, you put everything you have into it, you go home and you’re on to the next game,” he said. “In Vegas, it’s all about the show. There’s always someone coming around and hanging out on the set.”
Millard realized not long after the Knights beat the Florida Panthers to capture the Stanley Cup in 2023 that he had just had a “bucket list” experience - one he admitted would likely not have happened had he stayed in network TV.
“And then you get to the moment,” he said. “The moment when you hoist the Stanley Cup. All the celebrities are there, but they can’t get on the ice, we can. Everything came flooding back - from the first time you put on skates, to playing when you’re 12 years old, to trying to remember your number when you’re 17, to wonderful moments in hockey where you’re broadcasting but you’re just happy to be part of the National Hockey League, to being around the Stanley Cup dozens of times. Being able to hold the Stanley Cup and kiss that thing was one of the highlights of my life.”
Millard visited Virden briefly in August of last year when he accompanied Zach Whitecloud’s tour with the Stanley Cup and during his presentation, he paid tribute to the defenceman who suited up for the Oil Capitals from 2013 to 2016. Branden Crowe, the evening’s master of ceremonies, read a congratulatory message from Whitecloud to an appreciative audience.
In commemoration of the Golden Knights’ June 13, 2023 victory, Millard has been presented with an official Stanley Cup Championship Ring, which he passed around for the audience to take a closer look at. It’s a coveted keepsake and lifelong reminder of the team’s success.
“It was a wonderful moment to get a true Stanley Cup Ring, and I wanted to be able to share it with as many people as I can,” he said. “My ring was presented to me by my good friend Kelly McCrimmon.” McCrimmon, the former owner of the Brandon Wheat Kings, serves as General Manager of the Golden Knights.
Millard praised the Oil Capitals for their on-ice success during what is shaping up to be a stellar season and wished them good luck in the remainder of the season and playoffs.
“What you guys have going...first place right now in your division, second overall.... It’s a lot of fun to watch.”