Over the years, Ron Linkert has missed only a handful of Fernie Ghostriders games.
Since before the team even existed, he has been watching hockey at Fernie Memorial Arena from the best seat in the house.
The now 80-year-old climbed down from his goal judge chair for the last time after Fernie’s final game of the season against Kimberley on March 11.
His entire life, from when he was an infant to now a semi-retired man, Linkert has always been involved with the sport of hockey.
It was in 1945, at the age of six, that Linkert first strapped on a pair of skates. Growing up, he was a Junior B hockey player in Ontario before joining the Navy in 1958 for 10 years.
“I played until I couldn’t hold onto the hockey stick any more,” he said. A quadruple bypass later in life was the only way the then 54-year-old regained feeling in his fingers.
In 1969, Linkert was hired on by Kaiser Resources in Sparwood and worked underground as a miner. He became a foreman when he moved above ground to Greenhills Mine from 1973 to 1984. Looking back on those years, Linkert said he loved what he did.
“You ask anybody who worked in the coal mines – they’d go back tomorrow,” he said.
Just as the mining industry changed, so did the sport of hockey. In Linkert’s youth, hockey arenas didn’t have glass separating the ice from the fans – just wire mesh. The scars on Linkert’s forehead from blocking the puck playing hockey in the ‘50s are a reminder of the past.
“The padding, shoulder pads were leather. The sticks they have now are ridiculous, they’re not even sticks,” said Linkert.
“Big difference… helmets? No, we just had hard heads. I was a defenseman so I’d duck my head when the puck came for my face.”
In the late ’80s, when Sparwood was home to a Junior B team of its own, the Elk Valley Raiders, Linkert served as league advisor. When the Ghostriders started in 1991, Linkert worked as security in Fernie and took a year off when the Ghostriders moved to Creston in 1992. A few years later, Linkert became goal judge and has been doing it ever since until he retired at the end of this season.
Linkert has also served as a hockey official, a career his son has also chosen.
“The last game I did, I was 54-years-old. My son refereed it and I lined it. And I said that’s it, that’s enough,” said Linkert.
His iconic goal judge seat, which he had custom made in the ‘80s, will remain at Fernie Memorial Arena. He says it belongs at the rink.
Linkert has seen many hockey teams come and go in the Elk Valley.
First it was the KIJHL team, the Fernie Sabers, which became the Elk Valley Raiders when they moved to Sparwood in 1980. When they did so, they lost their fanbase, which Linkert attributes to them eventually moving back and forming the Fernie Ghostriders.
He saw them switch from the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League to the American West Hockey League, to the North American Hockey League and finally the KIJHL in 2004.
“They’ve had some real good games and some bad games, but it didn’t matter. The kids are out there enjoying themselves. that’s my biggest enjoyment,” said Linkert.
By far, his favourite part about the game is talking with the players.
“I talk to all the kids hey, especially the visitors. They’re all good, all those kids. Both teams of course,” he said. “I’m going to miss that. I’m really going to miss that, talking with the kids.
“I call them kids… young adults, that’s for darn sure they are. I don’t think there’s one player that I couldn’t call a young gentleman.”
As the years have passed, Linkert’s eyesight has faltered. Driving back and forth between Fernie and Sparwood for each game isn’t as easy as it was in the past. Getting up and down from his chair is also not as easy as it once was.
This, along with some other health issues, has prompted the hockey veteran to step down from his role as goal judge. However, fans will still see Linkert at the occasional Ghostriders game, proudly watching the team with a youthful gleam in his eyes; a love for hockey that will never die.