Bill Sanderson has enough heart-warming and knee-slapping stories to fill a week’s worth of Oak Bay News.
The Oak Bay resident is willing to share, though not all for print.
At 77, the long-time hockey backbencher has insider knowledge of junior hockey clubs dating back to 1975 when he first started working as an off-ice official.
Earlier this month he earned the WHL Distinguished Service Award for the 2015-16 season.
“I just enjoy it rather than sitting around the house watching T.V.,” he says with a chuckle, seated in his Estevan living room. A glassed shelf nearby encases bowling trophies, a hockey puck collection and two Victoria Royals bobbleheads.
It all started when he coached Oak Bay youth soccer in the 1970s. Facing falling numbers as the 15 and 16-year-old athletes discovered school sports and other endeavours, they blended with a Lansdowne team. The coach there introduced him to the behind-the-scenes work at the old Memorial Arena for the Victoria Cougars of the WHL. Sanderson began his career as an off-ice official in 1975 and five years later started his current 35-year run as the official scorekeeper for multiple franchises.
He was honoured by the WHL Commissioner Ron Robison before the Royals’ home game March 19.
“The Victoria Royals organization would like to thank Bill for his tireless efforts over the years,” said Royals GM Cam Hope. “Bill is a golden thread in Victoria’s sports fabric, and this recognition by the WHL is certainly well deserved.”
Sanderson also leads off-ice officials for the Cougars of the VIJHL at Archie Browning Arena and the BCHL Grizzlies at the Q Centre. He’s eagle-eyed more than 2,200 games in Victoria, including nearly 900 WHL home games in 24 years (1975-1994 and 2011-2016); nearly 700 home games in 22 years with the BCHL; nearly 400 home games in 16 years with the VIJHL; and 250-plus home games in seven years with the ECHL.
“I have to have the right people in the right place,” he explains. “When there are conflicting games I have to cover off and make sure we have everyone in place.”
At a Royals Game, for example, he tasks people to serve as goal judges, in the penalty box and as ice-level scorekeepers.
He’s also part of the trio upstairs at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre: his daughter Shannon Sanderson who inputs live web into; the video replay guy who reviews everything that potentially crosses the line; and Sanderson himself who watches every play.
“We work as a team calling shots,” he adds.
“I see more than other people. I have to watch the play every second,” he says, explaining at the WHL level he’s responsible for calling assists, at times a daunting task with five or six players battling for a goal. “I’ll watch replay if I can.”
Don Albany is generally his go-to replay guy for the Royals, but Peter Kung steps in when needed.
Sanderson holds opinions on the game – “In my mind one of the best things they did is bring in two referees” – as well as the team in general.
For example, Dave Lowry “is the best coach we’ve had.” Since joining the Royals in 2012-13, Lowry has posted a 162-85-9-8 record. In the 10-year history of the franchise, he holds the all-time record for most wins.
Sanderson also throws a nod to another Royals support group that fans in the stands might not credit with the success of late – the scouts.
“They’re the ones who pick the players … the whole organization has done a great job. And the players of course, and they couldn’t have a better leader than Joe Hicketts.”
Despite the devotion to teams of the region, Sanderson hasn’t played a lick of league hockey himself.
“We used to play in the basement. I played goal,” he says, recalling the indoor tennis ball games. He tried out once, and being a routine basement goalie, strapped on the minimal gear to try the net. They didn’t wear masks in those days either, Sanderson says, and once the pucks started to fly, that was it.
“I still don’t know to this day if I was cut or too scared to go back,” he adds with a laugh.
Sanderson does a lot of laughing and story telling. He recalls the 1970s incarnation of the Victoria Cougars with Archie Henderson on the roster.
Henderson wasn’t a star, though he’s a great guy, Sanderson stresses. “He’s one of the nicest guys going.”
Henderson was serving a penalty while Sanderson was working in the box. As the player fumed and carried on about how the “coach is gonna be so mad,” the crew in the box gave him solid advice: Go back out and score a goal.
Forgoing the standard celebratory skate past the bench or to teammates, he headed back to the box.
“He rushed over to us, ‘I did it I did it,’” Sanderson recalls so vividly he jumps off the couch to mimic hands raised motion everyone associates with scoring a goal.
Those memories, and the folks who were there, are the reason he does the work. He serves a similar role with the Shamrocks lacrosse club, and has for 35 years.
“It’s fun, I do it because I love it. You go to each rink and there’s a core group you get to know there. The social aspect is important to me,” he says. “All of us wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t love it. We’re not in it for the money or the glory. You do it for the love of sports and the enjoyment.”
The Royals face the Spokane Chiefs in the first round of playoffs. Get tickets at 250-220-7889 or selectyourtickets.com.