By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
DUNNVILLE — Dunnville resident George Culver, now 104-years-old, received a special recognition and keepsake during this year’s Stanley Cup finals for his efforts to promote the sport locally.
In his younger days, George ran Culver Drilling, which saw him spending most of his time working on drilling rigs out on Lake Erie. He is now known locally as ‘Mr. Centre Ice’ since, as George’s niece Jane Culver explained, “When the Dunnville arena was torn down, he wanted to put up a flagpole commemorating where centre ice was. That was done two years ago, and he’s wanted to label it ‘Centre Ice Park’, with a billboard and a time capsule.”
“The old arena was built in 1927. I used to skate in it. I never played hockey, but I’m quite a fan,” said George.
While George never played hockey in the old Dunnville Arena, it was home to many teams, including the Mudcats, and was a hub for local fans to come together to share their love of the game. For example, NHL legend Nathan Horton, the first player in NHL history to score two game-winning goals in the same postseason, played there in his younger days. Jane noted that George’s favourite NHL team is likely the Toronto Maple Leafs, “but he also loves Vegas because Pete Deboer, who was from Dunnville, coaches the Golden Knights.”
George had several pucks and banners made featuring a ‘centre ice’ logo, designed as a tribute to the fans of the sport. He sent some of those banners and pucks to the NHL, with the hopes that they might be displayed during games during the 2020-21 seasons when fans were not allowed to attend.
One of those pucks found itself in the hands of none other than Hockey Night in Canada host and Canadian icon Ron MacLean. MacLean was touched by George’s efforts, and reached out to both him and Jane to learn more about the project, culminating in an on-air acknowledgement of Culver’s efforts during Game One of this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs between the Montreal Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“George, when the pandemic started, wanted to thank fans from southern Ontario for the sport of hockey, so he erected a flagpole at centre ice at the old Dunnville arena, and he’s also putting a time capsule in,” said MacLean during the first intermission of the game.
MacLean offered to make a trade with George: one of the branded centre ice pucks, which was shown during the broadcast sitting inside the bowl of the Stanley Cup, in exchange for a game-used puck signed by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. In addition, George’s puck and banner will be gifted to the Hockey Hall of Fame, where they will be placed in the hall’s archives.
Speaking with George, it’s clear his love of the game will continue to inspire him to find creative ways to give back to his community, ensuring the legacy of Mr. Centre Ice will go down in the local history books alongside the hockey greats he admires so much.