Saturday was Hockey Day in Canada, which is another way of saying we’re grateful for what we have in this game.
Hockey Day sometimes offers a rare matinee at Scotiabank Place — who doesn’t love afternoon hockey? — for fans not fortunate enough to be out skating and playing hockey themselves.
On Hockey Day, we give thanks for networks like CBC, TSN and Sportsnet that bring us an embarrassment of riches throughout the hockey season. Viewers today won’t believe that Hockey Night in Canada was once just that – a single hockey night broadcast, Foster Hewitt’s call on Saturday night; early on, it was joined in progress at 8 p.m. The other nights of the week were dark.
Today the expectation for puckheads is wall to wall broadcasts, particularly the keeners who sign on to hockey packages.
For all manner of viewers, Saturday was a special treat, with such all-Canadian matchups on CBC as Ottawa-Edmonton, the classic matchup of the Montreal Canadiens vs. The Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto and a late treat when the Calgary Flames played host to the Vancouver Canucks.
Saturday marked the completion of defenceman Chris Phillips’ tribute for 1,000 games played, all in a Senators uniform. Flanked by his wife, Erin, and three young children, Ben, Zoe and Niomi, the Big Rig spoke from the heart in thanking the organization, his teammates, family and fans for making these past few days and the past 15 years, special.
Like Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson before him, Phillips received a silver stick, silver puck, a watch, a portrait from artist Tony Harris and tiffany crystal presented by NHL senior vice-president Jim Gregory.
Players appreciate what it takes to play a thousand games in this league, especially a veteran like Ryan Smyth of the Oilers, Captain Canada himself. When the official presentation was over, Smyth skated over to the a Senators bench and gave the Big Rig a hug, an all-Albertan embrace.
Smyth has played 1,124 NHL games, and it’s unfortunate they weren’t all in an Oilers uniform. But he’s back in Edmonton and productive, and all is well with the world . . . on Hockey Day.
Alfredsson, that adopted Canadian from Sweden, has come to appreciate the day for more than just the fact Canadian-born players have to put money on the board in the dressing room.
“I had no idea, I think it was later in my first year that I finally figured out that there was a national channel in the country…that ran this show on Saturday,” Alfredsson said, referring to HNIC. “(Hockey Day) is a great tradition and they do a really good job of going to the grassroots of the game.
“To me, it feels like they could go to an igloo up north and there would still be the same interest there is in Vancouver or Toronto – it’s amazing.”
For the Oilers’ matinee idol on Saturday, overtime hero Taylor Hall, Hockey Day sparks memories of growing up in Calgary and Kingston on outdoor rinks, including the backyard sheet his father, Steve, flooded religiously.
“I remember playing outdoor hockey all day and coming in for some hot chocolate or whatever, and watching Hockey Night in Canada, and going out and playing some more,” Hall says.
Still just 20, Hall was a small boy when the concept of a national day to celebrate the game was conceived 12 years ago.
“It was always a fun day as a kid, to see all the Canadian teams in action,” Hall says. “To be a part of it (now) at such a young age is special, and I’ve got my family here, to make it even greater.”
On Hockey Day…
We salute the 22 busloads of Quebec Nordiques fans who made the trek to Scotiabank Place as part of their pledge to return NHL hockey to the Quebec capital. It was 16 years ago that Quebec lost the Nordiques, and to commemorate the heartbreak, fans counted down to the 16 minute mark of each period Saturday, and then stood up and cheered for a solid minute.
Let’s hope they get their team back soon, because they’re starting to run out of minutes in the period.
With the Jets back in Winnipeg, the Nords are the final piece of the Canadian puzzle – at least until Hamilton also get its team.
On Hockey Day, anything seems possible. And not just at the elite level…
We give thanks to the thousands of volunteers who make minor hockey and school hockey programs sing from coast to coast to coast.
We salute the outdoor maintenance crews wielding hoses and shovels at the midnight hour on community rinks, so children (including kids that never grow up) can play shinny the next day.
We salute the moms and dads who set alarms for the 7 a.m. practice. Kids don’t understand the sacrifice because for them it isn’t one.
We give thanks for the days when the pond, the river, the local lac freezes just so, a fresh sheet of wind-polished glass.
And finally, we pray for the family of 15-year-old Tyler Kerr, the Richmond boy who died from cardiac arrest while playing the game he loves. He is forever in hearts.