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Victoria basks in the national spotlight on Hockey Day in Canada

Thousands of people converged on Ship Point on Saturday for the celebration as the full Hockey Night in Canada crew broadcast from above, atop Milestones Restaurant, beaming images of the Inner Harbour, B.C. legislature and Empress to viewers across the country.
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Kristian Hodge ties his son Clyde’s skates as the Racquet Club Kings take to the ice at Ship Point. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Victoria Day came early this year with a triumphant hosting of the 2024 Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada before an estimated audience of nine million viewers on Sportsnet.

As the week’s rare-for-the-Island snow and cold receded, the fog rolled in for a bit Saturday. Were locusts arriving next? But nothing Mother Nature could throw at it could obscure the brilliance of the event that the Victoria Hockey Legacy Society staged.

Thousands of people converged on Ship Point on Saturday for the celebration as the full Hockey Night in Canada crew broadcast from above, atop Milestones Restaurant, beaming images of the Inner Harbour, B.C. legislature and Empress to viewers across the country.

“These have been a very special few days in Victoria,” Sportsnet’s David Amber said during the broadcast.

The Hockey Night in Canada panel — including Amber, Kevin Bieksa, Elliotte Friedman, Ron MacLean, Evanka Osmak, Ken Reid, Jennifer Botterill and Kelly Hrudey — hosted the 12.5-hour Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada broadcast featuring all seven Canadian NHL teams in action. Interspersed were several features on Island hockey and other Island stories, beginning with Nelly Furtado introducing her hometown to the country.

“This has been incredible,” said Reid, who was at the Victoria Royals game on Saturday afternoon as part of Sportsnet’s coverage.

“This city is full of awesome stories.”

The day began with a welcome canoe flotilla from the Songhees Nation, which included former NHLer Geoff Courtnall of Victoria, crossing the Inner Harbour for the official welcome.

For the national broadcast, host MacLean wore a replica jersey and cap of the 1925 Stanley Cup champion Victoria Cougars and related the story about how coach, manager and owner Lester Patrick built the first artificial ice rink in Canada in Oak Bay in 1912.

Osmak and two-time Olympic gold medallist Cassie Campbell-Pascall wore Victoria Reign girls’ hockey association toques on-air and related the story about how the association awarded Campbell-Pascall a Reign jersey with her No. 77 after she helped to secure a grant that saved the association from possibly going under during its formative years. Reign jerseys only go from No. 1 to No. 20, but now the No. 77 will also be worn along with the No. 28. The latter is to honour Micah Zandee-Hart of Saanichton, who was also featured on the broadcast, and who became the first women’s hockey player from B.C. to win an Olympic gold medal, in 2022 at Beijing.

Among the blizzard of Island sports stories broadcast across the country Saturday, Robin Bawa of Duncan related to MacLean what it was like to become the first South Asian to play in the NHL.

All the indoor events sold out, including the 800-plus Hockey Day gala Thursday night at the Victoria Conference Centre and the 7,006 for the NHL Alumni and Celebrity Game on Friday night at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. But pulling off the outdoor events on the $100,000 synthetic-ice rink wasn’t easy earlier in the week amid the inclement weather. Islanders are used to the rain, but the snow threw an unexpected obstacle in the way of the rink activities at Ship Point before Saturday’s dry and joyous conclusion.

“We’ve all come together to pull this off. It’s been like a homecoming for everybody, including some NHL alumni who haven’t seen each other in years,” said Heidi Barlow-Lee, director of operations for Victoria’s Hockey Day in Canada.

“And our local community has responded by showing full support by coming out despite all the [earlier weather].

“There are so many smiles around because we are all connected by hockey.”

John Wilson, president of the Victoria legacy society, said he expects the $850,000 event — funded by the City of Victoria, province, Destination Greater Victoria and corporate sponsorships — to break even.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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