Sunday, 10 February 2008

Hockey Day In Canada 2008

That was a day I'll never forget. I spent my Saturday in the extremely hospitable town of Winkler, Manitoba as they hosted the CBC's Hockey Day In Canada 2008. Let me tell you that this day might go down as one of the more interesting days from the moment I woke up until the moment I got home. Between weather, road closures, the fun of the event, and the hype surrounding the event, Hockey Day In Canada was, in my opinion, a huge success for the community of Winkler and the surrounding areas of the Pembina Valley.

My day started out at 7:30 AM as I started on the highway to Winkler. Let's just say that it was a little precarious due to the blizzard-like conditions that were sweeping across the province. To give you an idea, the temperature was a balmy -27C and the wind made it feel like a lovely -47C. Driving on the highway looked like this. Not only that, but even in areas that had trees as windblocks couldn't escape the conditions. In any case, the main highway south to the Winkler area was closed until 9:15AM, so I spent part of my morning drinking Tim Horton's coffee who was, ironically, the event sponsor.

Once the roads opened, the white-knuckle driving due to the blizzard conditions was quite apparent, especially in open areas where the road almost disappeared. However, after an hour and a half, I arrived in Winkler at approximately 10:50AM where I discovered that the entire town had become a hockey hotbed.

After spending some time looking around town, I arrived at the Winkler Arena where Hockey Day In Canada was in full force. Dustin Penner, who was there on Thursday and Friday, is clearly a local hockey hero. The ice was being prepared for the day's events. Moments later, the Tim Horton's Timbits Tournament took to the ice, and I got a taste of a Winkler-Morden peewee game.

The best part of that entire game had to be #29 of the Morden Hawks. This little guy was the smallest guy on the ice (and blurriest), but seemed to be fearless on the ice. He had his nose in every scrum, and never backed down from anyone. However, he couldn't see over the boards. Now that's a hockey player! A quick tip from this writer: if you're a short person, make up for it by playing a big game! #29 certainly did that in every aspect. If anyone knows his name, I'd love to know who he is.

Anyway, it was nearing lunch, so I went upstairs to the Royal Hall where one could participate in many Hockey Day In Canada events. There was an accuracy shooting game for kids, Sirius satellite radio had a small tent up there, the Hockey Day In Canada online auction had a spot up there, and there was a giant screen with the CBC feed projected onto it. One of the highlights was having a picture taken with Ron MacLean and Don Cherry on a mock set of Hockey Night In Canada. Ok, cardboard Ron and Don, not the real guys. However, the biggest star up there had to be Lord Stanley.

Now, there was no hoisting of the Cup by anyone, but fans lined up to have their picture taken with the Stanley Cup. Honestly, touching hockey's Holy Grail was a highlight of the day.

I also got to speak to Mike Bolt. Mike Bolt is probably the most underrated star in the NHL, and I can guarantee that everyone wants his job. Mr. Bolt is the keeper of the Stanley Cup. While he was busy watching people file by the Stanley Cup on this day, I did get to ask him a few questions.

HBIC: "Does the Cup stay with you 24/7 when it's on the road?"
Mr. Bolt: "Well, there's two of us who watch out for the Cup, but I normally spend about 250 days a year with it. Me and the Lord have a good relationship."

Mr. Bolt then clarified that the "Lord" he was speaking of was the Silver Chalice, and not the Big Guy upstairs which was good for a few laughs. I scored Mike's autograph because he's one guy I truly would love to trade places with for a day. He also was wearing a "Hockey Fights Cancer" tie that looked really good. Yes, it was pink, and yes, it really did look good. You can find it here if you'd like to purchase one.

Some of the CBC guys were still there, but it was clear that they were working. Ron MacLean was busy all day, and that's understandable. He was hosting the event. He also spent time interviewing a ton of local people. It honestly appeared that Mr. MacLean was enjoying his time.

While I never got to see her up-close, Cassie Campbell was tearing around the arena doing a ton of work. However, her feature on the "Taco In A Bag" was shown on CBC, and I have to say that it was an amazing food creation. However, I was dumb and ate it all, and then realized I didn't take a picture of it. I know... I'm a goof. However, it was extremely tasty, and certainly was a great edible delight.

Don Cherry was not scheduled to be in the arena until later that evening, and with the weather being as brutal as it was, I decided to head back home earlier than planned. The wind was increasing around 2PM again, and I didn't want to risk driving in blizzard-like conditions overnight.

To preface the Winkler Flyers game that night, there are some things you should know. The Flyers got their start in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL) in 1980, and have had success on many levels: three Turnbull Cups (MJHL Champions - 1991, 1992 & 1998) and one Anavet Cup (MJHL/SJHL Champions - 1992) to go along with a Centennial Cup (RBC Cup) finals appearance (Jr. A National Championship - 1992). Ed Belfour's son, Dayn Belfour, is the goalie for the Winkler Flyers, and Ed Belfour also starred for the club while having his #29 jersey retired by the Flyers. Current AHL and Manitoba Moose player, Colby Genoway, also played for the Flyers. The Flyers also have a commitment to their players as well. Over 40 Flyers have received scholarships to either NCAA or CIS Universities.

Mr. Cherry was on-hand for the ceremonial puck drop between the Selkirk Steelers and the Winkler Flyers of the MJHL. The face-off featured Winkler Captain Stefan Schneider and Selkirk Captain Russ Payne.

In the game, the Addison division-leading Steelers and divisional-rival Flyers traded first period goals. Josh Schappert scored for the Steelers by finding room up high on Dayn Belfour's blocker side to open the scoring. David Kurbatsky's 20th goal of the season at 11:56 of the first evened the scored for the Flyers when he made a move towards the net before snapping a shot past goaltender Alan Armour.

The game remained a tight-checking affair through the second and third periods, as well as the overtime period. With nothing solved in regulation time, the game went to a shootout. Colan Jackson was the first shooter for the Steelers, and he put the puck past Belfour to open the shootout scoring. Schappert, their second shooter, did the same after Armour stopped Stefan Schneider. Armour successfully stopped Winkler's Nick Lazorko to secure the win for the division-leading Steelers.

For more information regarding the MJHL, please check out their website here. Overall, this was a very successful day for Winkler, in my opinion, and I'd like to thank a few people who made the day a success:

Deb Penner - she was my contact from Winkler and, while she was busy all day, provided me with an itinerary for the entire day's events.
My Mom - she took some of the pictures while I was following leads.
The CBC Crew - everyone was generous with their time for the community, and it showed through the success of the event.
The town of Winkler - a truly hospitable town, and everyone went out of their way to make me feel at home.

While I would have liked to have been able to talk to people like Ron MacLean, Cassie Campbell, Don Cherry, and Kelly Hrudey, the event itself was a load of fun. If you ever get the chance to go to a Hockey Day In Canada, I would recommend it. It was a blast!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Kirsten said...

That's so cool! I love the CBC crew. My American friends out here make fun of me for putting off social obligations to watch HNIC. They don't ever expect me to show up until 10.

Tacos in a bag are God's food. SO DELICIOUS.

Sounds like you had a good time! Colour me jealous of your trip to HDIC.