Saturday, 21 February 2009

Hockey Day In Canada '09

Hockey Day In Canada is taking place right now in Campbellton, New Brunswick. I'll be the first to say that the weather in New Brunswick looks a heckuva lot better than what it did for Hockey Day In Canada in Winkler, Manitoba last year. However, like the people of Winkler, everyone from Campbellton is out in full force with all the CBC crew, and it appears that CBC has put on another highly-successful Hockey Day In Canada. Of course, there will be NHL games played today that feature all six Canadian teams, the one thing I really enjoy the most about Hockey Day In Canada are the features on the grassroots movements and the lesser-heard stories. This is why Hockey Day In Canada is so great.

One of the first things that happened this week was surprise visit to Campbellton Middle School by Coach's Corner icon, Don Cherry. The kids at Campbellton Middle School had been busy for over two months in preparing for the CBC's arrival, decorating their school "with hundreds of ties and images of Don Cherry" as they waited for the CBC's arrival. While Don Cherry had nothing on his itinerary about stopping at the school, he changed it up and made the special visit once he heard about what the kids had done. That is why Hockey Day In Canada is so special.

"Cherry was greeted with a deafening roar from the roughly 265 Grade 5 to 8 students who had not been expecting to see the former NHL coach". Cherry greeted the children and had photos taken with him before autographing a large number of the paper versions of himself.

Not everyone likes Don Cherry, and that's alright. However, it's this kind of outreach by the outspoken hockey personality that makes events like this so memorable. 11 year-old Spencer Irvine, a Grade Five student, had his picture taken with Cherry. How long do you think he'll talk about that? I guarantee you that was the only thing he talked about for days.

I'm not saying that the NHL doesn't do things like this, but keeping the grassroots movements going is vital to the success of the NHL. While the NHL itself is big-city, big business, the tiny communities and smaller markets are where a lot of the support for the NHL in Canada comes from. And the NHL needs to start looking at this when trying to grow the game in the USA.

The CBC also had a special feature on the goaltenders of Team Canada's women's team in Kim St-Pierre and Charline Labonté. The relationship these two women have is a special one as they both push one another on the ice to be better. St-Pierre used to tend the nets for the McGill Martlets, while Labonté currently backstops the Martlets in the CIS and won a CIS Championship last season. However, both women say that there is a genuine respect for one another as they battle for the starting spot, and that each is the other's biggest fan.

Again, the fun relationship these two have is something you never see off the ice unless you're directly involved with the team. Having this type of feature available on Hockey Day In Canada only furthers the game as young girls everywhere have idols to look up to and emulate. Canadian women's hockey is strong, but keeping it in the spotlight will only help the game. Thanks to St-Pierre and Labonté, there should be no shortage of chatter about Team Canada in Vancouver.

Something else I think is phenomenal is the offering of the featured games on CBC today in languages other than English and French. Tonight's game between Montreal and Ottawa will be offered in Cantonese. The second game between Vancouver and Toronto will be offered in both Punjabi and Italian. And the third game between Calgary and Edmonton will also be offered in Punjabi.

Canada is a multicultural country where everyone is encouraged to celebrate their roots and honour traditions. It was how the country was built, and it is something we take pride in. With the number of minority groups in Canada growing, it makes sense to offer the game in languages other than the two "official" languages, and this really brings the game home to those who are interested in hockey, but may not be comfortable or familiar with the terms and diction used in English and French when describing a hockey game. This really speaks volumes, in my opinion, about the CBC and their efforts to keep the game strong in the Great White North.

I'm not saying that what the CBC does on its broadcasts is entirely perfect. I still feel there are too many Toronto Maple Leaf games on Hockey Night In Canada, but I'm not in charge of scheduling and programming. What I can say, though, is that I am proud of the CBC for the work they do in growing the game and keeping hockey in the minds of Canadians.

There's no denying that when Team Canada takes to the ice, the country stops and watches. And when Team Canada wins, it's a huge sense of pride for the entire country. However, every player that dons the red-and-white starts on a community rink somewhere across this great land.

Having the CBC reach out to those communities and inviting the rest of the country in is one of the major reasons why Hockey Night In Canada is still the premiere broadcast for hockey in the world. Kudos to the CBC on what appears to be another highly-successful Hockey Day In Canada. And a huge thank you to Campbellton, New Brunswick for allowing us to be a part of your community.

After all, any one of the kids in Campbellton who are on the ice today might be the next player who wears Team Canada's colours in an international event. Make sure you check out the 2009 Hockey Day In Canada website for lots of info!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Unknown said...

I was really happy to see Campbellton get to be the host of HDIC. My family is originally from the area and from stories I can tell the area is hockey mad. Back in the mid 60's my great uncle made a rink is his back yard in an area called Black Point and that was the only sheet of ice for kids to skate on for miles in every direction. As you can imagine, the rink was filled with children every minute they were not in school. The rink became so popular that the neighborhood boys, men and women formed several teams to compete in various minor hockey leagues, men's hockey leagues and broom ball leagues. Prior to the rink these children didn't have such an opportunity. My great uncle eventually made the rink to meet the specs of a proper hockey rink, he built a shed with a wood stove inside whene the players could suit up in their hockey gear and on top of that he built a little canteen where the children could buy some snacks if they wished. He attached floodlights and stereo speakers so the children could skate as late at 10 pm and they would have some music to glide to. Eventually my uncle went so far as to get some uniforms made for the local teams to wearwhile they were playing. Wear the colours of the Boston Bruins the teams wore logos which ranged from "Senior Black Point All-Stars" to "Blake's Wildcats" (Blake was my uncle's family's last name). The rink was a staple in the neighborhood for roughly 13 years during the 60's and 70's all of the operating costs coming out of the pockets of my great aunt and uncle for no other reason than they loved the pleasure it gave the neighborhood. Eventually, in the 90's my 1st cousin once removed (Joan Blake-Savoie) wrote a small book entitled "The Backyard Rink: A Daughter's Memory" which paints a wonderful picture of the rink from the point of view of a young child growing up alongside an entire farming community on the sheet of ice in her back yard. I hope that Campbellton greatly enjoys their weekend as they definitely deserve it.

Tony said...

Just imagining myself in sixth grade, seeing Don Cherry come walking in the door and everyone cheering sends chills up my spine. God, I wish I grew up in Canada.

Speaking of celebrating other culture...

I got this "Forward" the other day from a 'conservative' friend of mine that says something about the PM of Australia trying to force out the Muslim population because they want to celebrate their own religions there.

Then I read a story like this, where the games are broadcast in all these other secondary language (Punjabi? You kidding?) and it makes me sad to think that there is no chance in hell that NBC would be broadcasting the Stanley Cup Finals in Cantonese. No way!

Kinda makes me sad to be an American. All these stories I hear from Canadian folks makes me think that living up there feels so...otherworldly. Like everyone gets along, Boy Scouts aren't laughed at, pond hockey is commonplace rather than something that has to be searched out for (for years without any luck); almost an innocent feel.

Might be pipe dreams, who knows...but stories like "Hockey Day In Canada" make my heart melt.

And we don't even have a baseball or football day in the US. :(