Friday, 4 March 2011

The Trip Of A Lifetime

I was contacted a few weeks back by a lady who had been on the trip of a lifetime with a hockey team that worked their butts off to make it happen. I'm talking about the Petitcodiac/Salisbury Bantam "A" Flyers from New Brunswick who were featured on Hockey Day In Canada on CBC! Miss Michelle Nott wrote me with her story of the trip to Whitehorse that the Flyers experienced, and she also detailed all the cool stuff they did while in Whitehorse! Let me just say that I am jealous of the fun they had! Here is Michelle with the recap of everything that happened on Hockey Day In Canada!

4:30am. Thursday February 10th 2011. It’s finally here. The day I’ve been waiting for since December 7th when I was told I had won the Scotiabank "Big Save Contest". As I walk into the airport, I am greeted by 49 people who are also making the big trip to Whitehorse, Yukon. There are 19 players, 4 coaches, and 27 parents. The energy in the airport is amazing! Everyone is so excited.

It had been 2 months since we first found out that we had won the Scotiabank "Big Save Contest". None other than Ron MacLean had sent us a DVD that was played in our arena, announcing to the boys (and 1 girl) that they would be taking a trip all the way up to northern Canada to celebrate Hockey's birthday in Whitehorse, Yukon. We had been preparing for this day ever since.

Our flight left Moncton at 6am, and we traveled to Toronto, then on to Edmonton. Finally, we landed in Vancouver for the night. It was a ten-hour day, and we still had to travel another four hours on Friday to get to Whitehorse, Yukon.

Friday February 11th, 2011. We left the hotel in Vancouver at 7am to go to the airport. There was a lounge set up for us by Scotiabank for breakfast. Shortly after we finished breakfast, the Vancouver Giants (a WHL team) arrived in the lounge to join us. It was so amazing for the kids to be in the same room as pro hockey players who were not too much older then they were. While we were having that awe-inspiring moment, in walked Pat Quinn (former Toronto Maple Leafs head coach). When the kids noticed him, their jaws dropped. They were so excited and overjoyed and couldn't wait get near him. Mr. Quinn was very generous and gracious, posing so the parents could take pictures of him with each one of our kids. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a smile that has just lit up the room. It is OUR head coach Randy, who is beaming from ear to ear.

The whole time leading up to this trip, all I could think about was what an unparalleled experience this was going to be for our kids. It never dawned on me how incredible this was going to be for our coaches as well. Most of the hockey legends that we were going to be meeting over the weekend, were stars in the days that our coaches were teenagers. This just made me even more excited, realizing that this trip was going to mean at least as much to the coaches as the kids, if not more.

We boarded our Air North charter flight with the Vancouver Giants and Pat Quinn. We made a stop in Kamloops to pick up the Kamloops Blazers (another WHL team) who would be playing on Saturday evening against the Giants. So there we were, onboard a flight with 2 WHL teams and Pat Quinn! How cool is that??

We landed in Whitehorse around 12:30pm and were immediately whisked off to a private reception with both WHL teams, the mayor of Whitehorse, other dignitaries, media, and the Whitehorse Bantam B Mustangs(the team we would be playing on Hockey Day in Canada). From there, we were bused over to the Canada Games Center for a practice. The Flyers and the Whitehorse Mustangs would be practicing together that day.

When the kids got on the ice, they were so excited to see that they were going to be coached by none other than Wendel Clark. I’m sure that all they really wanted to do was just enjoy the absolute glory of the moment.

Just when you think that the practice can’t possibly get any better, Wendel Clark calls all the boys in (from both teams) to gather at center ice. A man with white gloves takes out the Stanley Cup, and proceeds to carry it onto the ice, placing it right in front of the boys. The look on their faces and amazement in their eyes at that moment was indescribable. Here is a piece of hockey history, sitting just a few feet in front of them! The cameras were flashing all around and before long, the man with the white gloves was ready to return Stanley to his safe and cushy box, but not before my two sons & I were asked to go over and have a picture taken with it. I kept nudging my oldest (who is a goalie) to touch it. He kept looking at me with this puzzled look. Not being sure if it was a good idea or not, he reluctantly touched the cup, and then a look of pride came over him. He whispers to me "that was so cool". If only he could understand how cool all of this was for me. I had won the contest, so for me, this was even more amazing. I was getting to see 19 kids’ faces, 4 coaches, 27 parents, and their reactions to how unbelievable this really all was.

After our practice, we were taken upstairs for a pizza party. The Mustangs and their parents joined us. It was a nice way for everyone to get to know the other players and parents, before the game the next day. Pat Quinn even came up to chat with everyone. He signed more autographs and had more pictures taken. What a great guy he is! Once the pizza party was done, the kids were able to go swimming in the Aquatic Center downstairs. They all had a great time just being kids and having fun. At around 8pm, we left on the bus to go to our hotel to finally check in. Since we had traveled all the way across the country in the last 2 days and were anticipating Saturday would be a very busy and full day, we all turned in rather early that evening.

Hockey Day in Canada - Saturday morning. 7am came rather quickly. We all met down in the lobby and walked over to the Catholic church for a pancake breakfast. We were greeted at the door by the mayor of Whitehorse, Honorable Douglas Phillips, and many locals who were very excited to meet us and welcome us to their beautiful city. We were just starting to eat when it was announced that His Excellency, Governor General David Johnston, was arriving to join us for breakfast. He took the time to meet all of us and talk with us before sneaking off with an apron to help flip pancakes in the kitchen.

It was about 9am when we headed back to the hotel to go sightseeing. Because of our large group, we had 2 buses to transport us to wherever we needed to go. Our bus driver was extremely knowledgeable and took us to see all the great sights in Whitehorse. We stopped at Shipyards Park, roasted some marshmallows, and chatted with the locals. Then we went to see Whitehorse’s pride and joy, the SS Klondike. It is a huge sternwheeler that was used to run freight between Whitehorse and Dawson City along the Yukon river between 1921-1950. The ship is not normally open to the public, but we were given an exclusive tour inside the ship by a man who works for Parks and Recreation. Our bus driver told us some great old stories about the area, and took us to a lookout point, where we could see the gorgeous city in all its glory. We only had a little bit of free time for sightseeing, but what we saw, we loved. It was, of course, Hockey Day in Canada. It was going to be a big day for all of us.

At noon, we all headed over to the Canada Games Center to get ready for the big game: the Petitcodiac/Salisbury Flyers vs. the Whitehorse Mustangs. While they were in the dressing room, they received a few special visitors: Lanny MacDonald and Mark Napier, 2 NHL alumni. I was later told by Mark Napier himself that he was very impressed by our boys (and girl). He said they were very polite, friendly, and intelligent kids. He stayed to watch the whole game.

Puck drop was at 1pm. As the kids took to the ice, the carpet was rolled out for a very special someone to come on the ice to drop the puck. It was none other than Governor General David Johnston. Once the ceremonial puck drop was complete, he took a seat up in the stands and watched the entire 2hr game, cheering the kids on, and getting to know the parents of those kids. Our team had our coaches on the bench, and they were told that Wendel Clark would be helping coach the game. The Mustangs were going to be coached by Trevor Linden. Later on, it dawned on me that for the coaches, it would have been a true honor to have such accomplished professional hockey players helping them coach the kids. It must have been a very surreal experience for them, a dream come true. Not just anyone can say they’ve coached a hockey game WITH Wendel Clark or Trevor Linden!

Although Ron MacLean reported on TV that day that we were losing the game at one point by 3-1, we were in fact winning the game and won it 5-1. The class, the composure, the dignity and the sportsmanship that our Flyers displayed during that game filled us all up with such pride! They played a true good hockey game, and would have made every New Brunswicker extremely proud. When I saw our coach, Randy, I was busting at the seams. I asked him, "Are you as proud of the kids as I am? Weren’t they amazing?" Answering me with a huge lump in his throat (from pride), he said: "They were great. They were all so great." The kids had classroom sessions for about 7 weeks, where our coach (Norm) taught and stressed to them that they were all ambassadors for New Brunswick, Petitcodiac and Salisbury, and they needed to represent themselves with class, dignity, and distinction. This was a friendship game. Thank you Norm, you taught them well. They were excellent ambassadors, and each and every one of us could not have been more proud.

Ron MacLean was just outside the Canada Games Center broadcasting live all afternoon. Although the boys had hoped he might pop in and catch some of their game, he did not. This was a huge disappointment for our kids, seeing as they all thought they would get to meet him. Especially since it was Ron MacLean himself who had announced to them in the first place that they were going to be coming to Whitehorse.

Once the kids were finished the game, they made a mad dash to get dressed and we all went over to the Tikhini arena to watch the WHL matchup between the Vancouver Giants and the Kamloops Blazers. When we arrived, we noticed our seats were already cornered off for us to sit and enjoy. A huge carpet was rolled out on the ice and both the Blazers and the Giants were all lined up. It was obvious someone pretty special was going to be coming in on that ice. Moments later, Don Cherry himself entered the rink, and went on the ice for the puck drop. Don Cherry and Ron MacLean then walked off the ice to head to their booth where they would be broadcasting Coaches Corner that evening.

A few minutes into the game, the first fight of the night happened. I watched an entire section of kids (our kids) all stand up with their cell phones, each one trying to take pictures of the big fight. The mom in me was thinking, "Oh yeah, this is just great for them to see after the outstanding game they had played half an hour earlier." Just then, an overwhelming feeling came over me of "We’re Here! We’re in Whitehorse, Yukon!!!" How cool is that?!?

During the first intermission, 4 of our boys, our girl, plus 5 Mustang hockey players took to the ice for a shootout competition. That was very exciting for them. During the second intermission, the mascots took to the ice. There was Carlton the Bear, Harvey the Hound, Peter Puck, and the Scotiabank Bear and they put on the funniest show ever. They were, by far, the best entertainment you could have asked for, especially Harvey the Hound.

The game was a great game to watch. We heard that the Giants were 1st in the division, and the Blazers were last. The Blazers came out strong and hard, and it was a very close game, going from 1-1 to 2-2 with the Giants getting the very important final goal to win the game 3-2.

When the game was over, we all piled onto the buses, and headed out for a quick bite to eat. The boys (and girl) were going to head back over to the Canada Games Center for a family skate with NHL alumni for a couple of hours. They were a bit disappointed that no NHL alumni actually showed up for the skate, but they soon found their own fun by playing hockey on the outdoor pond at the arena. It was the perfect setting. It was dark. The spotlights were on the rink and the snow was lightly falling. It was chilly, and with the absolutely breathtaking scenery that is Whitehorse, it looked like the perfect way to end a perfect, amazing and unbelievable Hockey Day in Canada: playing hockey.

We left Whitehorse the next day. We flew all the way back across the country to get home.

Looking back on the experience, there are no better words to describe our trip other than to say it truly was The Trip Of A Lifetime. Whitehorse is a beautiful city, filled with wonderful, warm, hospitable and generous people. You could not ask for a more beautiful city to host Hockey Day in Canada. In fact, it is so incredible there, that I personally believe Hockey Day in Canada should be held there every year. To me, Whitehorse represents the perfect setting for Hockey Day In Canada. It’s snowy and cold, yet so cozy and warm. Our trip was too short, and I most definitely hope to get back there as soon as possible so I can have the time to explore it more. We were so busy when we were there that I didn’t get to see even close to everything I had wanted to see. For me, the Yukon is one of the most beautiful, yet under-acknowledged, parts of Canada. It is a breathtaking city with a marvelous vista of lakes and mountains. It is majestic. A true hidden gem with so much to discover. Such an extraordinary place just waiting for you to have extraordinary experiences. I would suggest to anyone reading this to make a point to visit the Yukon. Especially Whitehorse. I promise it will be even more then you can imagine.

Thank you, Scotiabank, for everything. It was truly was amazing. The warmth, hospitality, and attention that was given to us by every employee that represents you was outstanding. Thank you for The Trip of a Lifetime. It was all that, and so much more.

WOW! Thank you, Michelle, for this incredible recap on all the stuff that you and the kids and the coaches and the parents did while in Whitehorse! This is simply amazing! And thank you for the pictures as well!

I admit it: I am very jealous, and I really want to visit Whitehorse now that I've read all that you did and how great the city and people sound. While the weather might be cold, I believe you accurately captured the true warmth of the people of Whitehorse and northern Canada perfectly, and this is one of the major reasons I'm planning on visiting there in the future!

Thank you to Scotiabank for running this contest as well! There wouldn't be a great story like Michelle's story had it not been for Scotiabank running their contest! Thank you, Scotiabank, for allowing this story to be written through your generous contest!

This is a fabulous story, and I, Teebz, am very jealous that these kids got to do something as cool as this. I'm quite certain that each and every member of the Petitcodiac/Salisbury Bantam "A" Flyers will never forget this experience. So allow me to say it: HOW COOL IS THAT?!?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

***All images, unless otherwise noted, as property of Michelle Nott and used with permission by HBIC. Please do not copy or use these photos without the consent of Michelle Nott. Thank you!***


Michelle Nott said...

Thank you so much for your interest in our adventure. It definately was amazing.
I'm really happy to hear that you want to visit the Yukon. I promise you,you will fall in love with the place. Now I'm envious of you.Lol. I hope I get the chance to visit it again.

Picking up Women said...

The Flyers and the Whitehorse Mustangs would be practicing together that day.

Picking up Women said...

Thank you to Scotiabank for running this contest as well! There wouldn't be a great story like Michelle's story had it not been for Scotiabank running their contest!