Scanlan: Why we still love Hockey Day in Canada after all these years

Fourteen years in, CBC is revving up the Hockey Canada in Canada broadcast for what could be a last hurrah.

Scanlan: Why we still love Hockey Day in Canada after all these years
Zachary Moulton (L) and Bruce Lawrie (R) of the Cumberland Jr. Grads react as they step onto the visitors bench following the Ottawa Senators practice held at Canadian Tire Centre, on January 17, 2014, in Ottawa, Ont. The team had won a contest for Hockey Day in Canada. (Jana Chytilova / Ottawa Citizen)

Fourteen years in, CBC is revving up the Hockey Day in Canada broadcast for what could be a last hurrah.

Where else but Canada could a national television network get away with day-long hockey features built around the broadcasts of four NHL games, airing from noon to past midnight — and attract strong ratings throughout?

Since the initial CBC Hockey Day launch in 2000, it feels as though we’ve met variations of every community rink builder, met a million hockey families, heard the best grassroots tales of legendary figures like Gordie Howe skating in frigid Saskatoon.

Most of us are suckers for it still, because it conjures some childhood memory of the game at its simplest level, played outdoors for fun. No minor hockey politics. Nobody playing for money.

Even NHL hockey players tune in.

“I’ve been hurt before and just sat in front of my TV and watched the whole day,” says Senators centre Jason Spezza. “I think it’s a great thing CBC does, it recognizes some of these small towns — just to have a day with some backstories, Zamboni drivers and people helping in the community, kids that have gone through a tough time. They do a good job of showing the whole, broad spectrum of the game.”

This year’s Hockey Day has myriad cameras, including in Barry’s Bay, west of Ottawa, Prince George, B.C. and Sydney, N.S. The show is based, though, in Lloydminster, Alberta/Saskatchewan, which means it’s a huge day for the family and friends of Senators winger Clarke MacArthur.

MacArthur’s parents, Deborah and Dean MacArthur, will be featured on the broadcast, and have promised to PVR the show so Clarke can watch it later. He will be a little busy in the afternoon, as the Senators meet the New York Rangers at 2 p.m. here, in one of the two matinee Hockey Day broadcasts.

The other games: Edmonton at Winnipeg (also 2 p.m.), Montreal at Toronto (7 p.m.) and Calgary at Vancouver (10 p.m.).

MacArthur, who hails from the Alberta side of the prairie border town, has an array of hometown yarns about growing up living the game in “Lloyd.”

“Saskatchewan pride is heavy in Lloyd,” MacArthur says. “It always seems the Saskatchewan people let you know they’re from Saskatchewan. Smitty (Senators centre Zack Smith) is from Saskatchewan. He let me know it in two minutes.”

Smith is from Maple Creek, Sask., more than 400 kilometres south of Lloydminster, near Swift Current.

Up in Lloydminster, the population is about 31,000, with roughly two-thirds living on the Alberta side of the city, and one third in Saskatchewan. Wisely, hockey organizations don’t use provincial origin in structuring teams.

“It was never Saskatchewan vs. Alberta, that would have got really ugly,” MacArthur says. “Everyone was intertwined, so it wasn’t province vs. province — for the safety of the city.”

Like every child of most any Canadian town, MacArthur had his local heroes. Former Senators defenceman Wade Redden is from Lloydminster, Sask. while Scott Hartnell of the Philadelphia Flyers is from the Alberta side, like MacArthur. Hartnell is three years older than MacArthur, who turns 29 in April.

The news of Redden’s retirement this week, at age 36, resonated with MacArthur, reminding him to enjoy his career for the moment.

“I was, like, 15 and working out in the gym, in Lloyd, and Wade was a star in the NHL,” MacArthur says. “He was probably in his early 20’s then, and now he’s on the outside. It’s crazy. He had a great career.”

In his youth, the undersized MacArthur honed his skills on indoor and outdoor rinks in Lloydminster.

“Archie Miller was this old rink, and it didn’t have glass, it had chicken wire around it,” he says. “My dad knew the caretaker guy and we used to sneak on and get some free ice time. Scott Hartnell did, too.

“A lot of everything I owe is in that barn of a rink. School would get out at 3:30, and my dad would be right there to pick me up. I’d skate until 4:30, go home and eat dinner and we’d have practice back there again at 7 or so.”

More convenient was the outdoor shinny ice at Bud Miller All Seasons Park, just down the street from MacArthur’s home. (The predominant ‘season,’ of course, was winter).

“The whole town was over there every day,” MacArthur remembers. “It was vintage throw-your-sticks-in-the-middle and get at it.

“There weren’t any days where the ice would be melting or anything, it was minus-30 every day. A full seven-month season.”

Not that the cold was an issue for kids 10 or 12 years of age.

“I can barely go to the Sensplex now, but then it could be minus-30, with nothing on, and not feel a thing,” MacArthur says. “It’s funny how that works.”

This is how it works in the television business: given the massive 12-year, national contract signed by Rogers Sportsnet for next season, this could be the last CBC Hockey Day in Canada — unless Rogers opts to preserve it.

wscanlan@ottawacitizen.com
Twitter.com/HockeyScanner

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