OUTLOOK - It was 50 countries, 600 universities, 11 days of competition and a golden moment for Team Canada at the FISU World University Games where Outlook’s Cord Ivanco helped elevate the nation’s hockey team to the top of the podium.
Cord, son of Garry and Nadine, grew up in Outlook where he first played hockey and football. His development as a football player led to a spot with the Saskatoon Hilltops where he played four years, earning three national championships along the way.
But an encounter at his workplace in Saskatoon put Cord back in the rink. “I was working at Olympian Sports and the Huskies head coach came in and talked to my boss about needing someone to help sharpen skates. I like hockey and I knew how to sharpen skates so it interested me.”
Cord developed a reputation for quality work as the University of Saskatchewan Huskies equipment manager and that put him on the team for the 2021 World University Games in Lucerne, Switzerland which were subsequently cancelled due to COVID. But last July he got a call from the head coach asking if he was still interested in the opportunity because they wanted him on staff for the 2023 Games in Lake Placid.
The job of an equipment manager is multifaceted and includes taking care of skates, sticks and uniforms. “It’s a little bit of everything,” Cord said. “You’ve got to make sure everything is ready to go; all the jerseys hung, laundry done, equipment prepped and ready to go. You take care of the players so that when they show up at the rink they have nothing to worry about. They can just go out and play hockey.”
FISU, the international university sports federation, stages World University Games every two years involving more than 2,500 participants and broadcast to more than 100 countries reaching over 300 million viewers.
The multi-sport event officially began with the opening ceremony. “That was a pretty special moment,” Cord shared. “They walk you through this dark tunnel and next thing you know you walk out and you’re on the ice at the Herb Brooks arena where the ‘Miracle on Ice’ happened in 1980.”
He said the event was unforgettable. “We were one of the first countries to come in and you could see all the Canadian athletes waving flags and cheering. I’d never been part of anything quite like it.”
As they often do at international events, the outfits worn by Team Canada proved popular. “The jackets were super big, puffy and warm,” Cord shared. “The red toques really stood out and at the end of the tourney people were asking for those toques because they liked them so much.”
There were some trades amongst athletes from various nations as they eyed up each other’s clothing. “I traded a Canadian hat with a Czech Republic guy for his toque so that was pretty fun,” Cord remarked. “Some guys were trading their big puffy jackets with guys from the Kazakhstan team so there are a couple of Canadian guys walking around with Kazakhstan jackets now.”
Team of Canadian All-Stars
Compiling a roster for Team Canada from across the country presented a challenge in quickly building chemistry. For an equipment manager it meant needing to learn a lot about players in a short period of time. “The first couple days it was a bit of a shock,” Cord remarked, “You meet 21 brand new players and seven coaches as well.” It is different than working with the same roster day after day. “You want to know everybody's sticks,” Cord explained, “and what they like their skates done at, so it takes time. But after a few days of repetition it all came together. Once you put names to faces and remember who everyone is it makes the job a lot easier.”
The team met in Ottawa on January 8 where they practiced for a couple of days before being bussed to the Games that ran January 12-22. “We only had four practices before we got into the tournament,” Cord said. But they quickly hit their stride, beginning with a win over Ukraine.
The Ukrainian hockey team played some exhibition games in Canada, so Cord had seen them play and was able to chat with them. “When we played them the first game of the tournament it was kind of weird. We were happy to see them there but we had to remember we were part of a tournament now and we wanted the win.”
Canada beat them 6-1, but Ukraine’s impact on the Games was still to come. “They actually beat the Czech Republic in their last game to knock them out of the tournament. After that game they got together and took a picture on center ice and the entire rink was applauding. It was good to see them achieve success and it was a super special moment,” Cord shared.
Gold Medal Game
Team Canada dominated the tournament and beat top-ranked Kazakhstan in the semi-final to put them in the final against the United States. “So we got to play the Americans in Lake Placid in the rink where the miracle on ice happened,” Cord explained. “There were 8,000 American fans cheering for them and booing us when we came out on the ice. The chants of U-S-A were so loud.”
But the Canadian squad answered back. “We scored the first couple of goals and all of a sudden the rink was very quiet. Our coach said, ‘boys, appreciate the silence. It means you’re doing your job right.’”
That game was the sports highlight of Cord’s life. “You know, it’s funny. We were talking on the bench before the game and the coaches asked me if I’d ever played a game like this. I said to be honest, I’ve played in three national championships for football and I wasn’t nervous whatsoever. I’m standing here on the bench and I am the most nervous I have ever been in my life!”
Team Canada captured gold with a 7-2 win, earning Canada’s 13th and final medal of the Games, and the first gold in hockey since 2013. Parents, fans, and Canadian athletes filing into the arena in preparation for the closing ceremony joined in the celebration. “They were cheering so loudly,” Cord said. “It was pretty special representing your country.”
Following the game, organizers didn’t play the Canadian anthem, but the FISU anthem instead. So one of the players encouraged everyone to line up on the blue line and the team sang “O Canada”, joined by those in the arena. “I watched the video again today and it just gave me chills thinking about it,” Cord shared.
Dedicating the Games
Each team member was asked to dedicate the Games to someone. Cord chose Outlook High School teacher and coach Darcy Busse. “He was always someone I looked up to,” Cord explained. “He was the guy who taught me life mottos like being a good person and working hard and stuff like that.”
After making that dedication, Cord learned that Busse himself had attended the Summer University Games in 1983 playing volleyball. “I found out he won a gold medal and I thought with him winning, maybe a little gold luck would turn our way. It looks like it worked out.”
Cord recognizes what a unique opportunity it was representing Canada on the international stage. “On the gold medal Sunday I was walking around the dressing room and all the Canadian jerseys were hung and I almost started shedding tears because it was just so special. I wanted to take it all in.”
Cord will now focus on finishing off the season with the U of S Huskies, but he is always looking to the future and honing his skills as an equipment manager. “It’s something that I’m pursuing and trying to take the steps as far as I can go. Eventually, down the road, you'd like to make it to the NHL, obviously, everyone says that. But I think that if you keep working hard opportunities will come so that's what I’m hoping for.”