Thousands of local hockey fans attended the Rogers Hometown Hockey festival in the Cowichan Valley last weekend, and the rest of Canada got to see what the region is all about during a national broadcast on Sunday evening.
According to Rogers, between 8,500 and 9,000 people attended the event outside the Island Savings Centre on Saturday and Sunday, enjoying activities and games, live music, giveaways and encounters with former NHL stars like Brendan Morrison and Geoff Courtnall and Hometown Hockey hosts Ron MacLean and Tara Slone.
According to Ernie Mansueti, North Cowichan’s director of Parks, Forestry and Recreation, and one of the point men in bringing Hometown Hockey to the Cowichan Valley, the Rogers crew was thrilled with Cowichan’s contributions to the event and broadcast. One crew member, in her third year travelling across Canada with Hometown Hockey, emailed Mansueti afterward to say that “without a doubt, it was one of the most memorable” tour stops for the crew.
The Cowichan Valley is certainly not among the larger communities to have hosted Hometown Hockey, but it was the “personal touches” that made it stand out, Mansueti said.
“We did all the little things they just loved,” he added.
Rogers crew members took part in the annual ALS hockey tournament at the Island Savings Centre on Friday night, and also attended a pub night at the Craig Street Brew Pub, where Slone — a former singer with Juno-nominated band Joydrop — performed on stage with scheduled artist Lance Lapointe. The tournament raised more than $6,200 for ALS research, and the pub night generated more than $7,000 for KidSport Cowichan.
“For me, I was very proud of the Cowichan people, and the way they presented the area, not only to Ron and Tara, but to the whole crew,” Mansueti said, noting the contributions of groups from all over the Cowichan Valley.
Cowichan Tribes was represented in the Hometown Hockey Opening Ceremonies by the Tzinquaw Dancers, and Coun. Craig George presented a Cowichan sweater to MacLean and a vest to Slone. Robert George and Fred Roland also arranged for Slone and two crew members to experience a sweat lodge.
School involvement included 450 students attending events on Friday, where they skated, heard from Cowichan Paralympian Richard Peter, and enjoyed entertaiment from Paz the Hockey Circus Clown and two DJs. Teams from Maple Bay, Alex Aitken, Bench and Lake Cowichan schools also took part in ball hockey tournament finals at the festival site.
Minor hockey teams from the Cowichan Valley, Kerry Park and Lake Cowichan associations also played ball hockey at the festival, helped with clean-up, and took part in the Parade of Champions. More than 700 hockey players participated in the Parade of Champions, surpassing Rogers’s previous record by about 200.
The Sunday-evening broadcast, centered around the Vancouver Canucks’ road game against the Winnipeg Jets, also showcased many aspects of the Cowichan Valley, going well beyond hockey. One segment showed Slone kayaking with former NHLer Doug Bodger in Ladysmith, while another paid tribute to former LPGA star Dawn Coe-Jones, who grew up in Lake Cowichan. Other segments included former NHLers and Cowichan Valley products Greg Adams and Robin Bawa, as well as Cowichan Valley Capitals defenceman Simon Chen, who has ambitions with the Chinese Olympic team, and his father, Caps owner Ray Zhang.
The broadcast wrapped with local minor hockey players Rhys Mazurenko and Brooklyn Paisley announcing the three stars, and Slone also swapped out her Cowichan vest for a burgundy Cowichan Secondary School hockey hoodie.
There were few complaints about the weekend. Some attendees believed the Canucks and Jets were playing at the Island Savings Centre, perhaps confusing Hometown Hockey with Kraft Hockeyville. Rain pelted the venue, especially on Sunday, but didn’t chase away the crowds.
“The one thing we couldn’t control was the weather,” Mansueti commented. “But people still came out despite the weather.”
The weather actually made things difficult for MacLean, who travelled to Vancouver Island all the way from Corner Brook, Newfoundland, where he hosted Hockey Day in Canada the day before. After struggling to get out of Corner Brook because of snow, he made it to Vancouver via Toronto. He had four options for getting to the Island: float plane, Helijet, BC Ferries or commercial flight to Victoria or Nanaimo. The first three options were eliminated because of wind, and MacLean was supposed to fly to Victoria, where Lake Cowichan Mayor Ross Forrest would pick him up. Forrest was dispatched to Victoria in a vehicle furnished by BowMel Chrysler, but while he was en route, MacLean’s flight was rerouted to Nanaimo, where Mansueti ended up picking him up.
“It was an interesting day, for sure,” Mansueti laughed.
In all, everything went off without a hitch.
“For me, to have a free event of that size and magnitude, that was very important to me,” Mansueti said. “For people to feel they got something out of it and it made them feel pretty special, that was cool.”