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This article was published 7/2/2018 (1165 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Not many fans of the Brandon Wheat Kings have heard the name Ralph Posteraro, but he played an unheralded yet important role in the team’s Western Hockey League championship in 2016.
After Game 2 of the league final against the Seattle Thunderbirds, the teams flew on a charter plane to Abbotsford, B.C., before driving down to Seattle.
The Thunderbirds’ bus was waiting for them. And for the Wheat Kings, the bus belonging to the Prince George Cougars, and its driver Posteraro, waited at the ready on the tarmac.
The Cougars had received a call a few days earlier asking if they would be interested in loaning their bus. They quickly agreed, and since Posteraro works for the team and was just golfing, he took on the job.
"I thought it would be a cool experience to see what a championship team looks like and see the way that they do things and to work a little bit with (then head coach and general manager) Kelly (McCrimmon)," he said.
Posteraro has driven for the Cougars for 17 years, and to give you an idea of how much time he spends on the road, the current bus that he broke in has 760,000 kilometres on it.
He supervised the loading of the bus after the Wheat Kings got off the plane — "I tried to guide them a little bit the way we do it but they knew the drill" — and drove the 220 kilometres just south of Seattle to Kent, which is home of the Thunderbirds’ ShoWare Center. The drive included a stop at the border, which went quickly despite the Russian passport of Ivan Provorov.
Posteraro, who was wearing a golf shirt with a Cougars logo on it, gradually became a familiar face to the team. After learning he was Ralph, the Brandon players generally acknowledged him by name as they got off the bus.
"There isn’t one who walks off the bus without thanking me," Posteraro said. "You don’t see that from adults."
The rink is about a 10-kilometre drive from the hotel, with a nearby mall, where the players sometimes went for lunch on off-days when they received their meal money, about a mile. Posteraro was always there when needed.
He chuckles about one story, adding that he’s always impressed by the quality of the young men who play in the league.
"I remember just driving them to the mall and there were some girls walking around the bus," he smiled. "They were talking out the windows and hollering at them. One of the boys said to me ‘Hey, the Prince George Cougars are getting a bad name here.’"
One morning when the team filed onto the bus for a morning skate, Posteraro was suddenly wearing a Wheat Kings shirt.
It had come out the night before when director of marketing and ticket sales Matt McNish and director of game day operations and community relations Chris Falko had flown in to join the team.
"Kelly had noticed I had the Cougars shirt right away and he said ‘Geez, you guys didn’t even bring him a shirt?’" Posteraro said. "So David (Anning) said ‘We have the guys coming from the office so we’ll get them to bring one down for him.’ So it was the next day the shirt arrived."
Since Posteraro naturally stayed in the same hotel, he increasingly became part of the team’s travelling family.
And it didn’t take long before the Wheat Kings had one more big fan. But he had a special opportunity to do something unimaginable for most people.
Posteraro loves photography, so when Game 5 ended and the celebration began, he was out on the ice getting pictures of the revelry. He later gave his pictures to the team.
"It was certainly a happy occasion for the boys," Posteraro said. "They were pretty excited so I took tons of pictures. They invited me into their team photo at the end but I said ‘No, this is yours.’ But they insisted. It was awesome."
His friend Andy Neal even pointed out on the Shaw broadcast that he was in the picture.
Posteraro was hoping for a repeat last year at the trade deadline when Prince George loaded up, but it wasn’t to be.
They lost in the first round.
"It was a great accomplishment," Posteraro said of Brandon winning the title. "They won three games in overtime and Seattle was no slouch at that time. But they worked together and came together. That’s what I hoped we (the Cougars) would do last year but we didn’t."
With the Cougars playing in Brandon last Friday, Posteraro was in town for the first time since the 2016 final, and was a little surprised at the reception he received. He was greeted by team staff who had met him in Seattle, plus there was a surprise waiting for him.
When he went into the team store on Thursday to buy something for a friend who follows the Wheat Kings, Sharon Shannon had set aside a shirt for him.
The team hasn’t forgotten him, and Posteraro certainly hasn’t forgotten the seven days he spent with the club from May 8 to 14, 2016.
"It was a great experience."