Most Canadians have had a "Hockey Night" experience. In one form or another, you've likely walked into an arena in your home town and sat down to watched unshaven men or rose cheeked youngins chase a puck. It's not a "Uniquely Canadian" phenomenon as there are many European nations that understand this collective experience. But "Hockey Night" is a shared experience, even common ground coast to coast in Canada... a nation that sometimes struggles to find East, West, North, South unity points.
Last night we had our wrap up meeting for the very successful Hockey Night in Brantford that we ran back in August. It was the dream of our MP Phil McColeman to host a hockey game like Brantford had never seen. A game where the names from local hockey past took to the same ice as the stars of today while including the kids of hockey's future. He also wanted to raise a LARGE amount of money for a local charity as a way to give back to the city... serving the city he loves. Phil is a very good MP, does hard work for the right reasons and it's a pleasure to be on his team.
But in many ways, it came down to the hockey. I was a part of this game from it's conception and while that came with a lot of work, it came with some pretty cool perks too. Like the day we announced that New Jersey Devil Calder Trophy nominee Adam Henrique would be playing in the game, my son Jared got to hang out with him... possibly solidifying a new favorite player for him. A HOCKEY memory even for a kid who's "rink" is the family driveway, like his non-skating father before him. Hockey in Canada has a wider social currency than just playing a game.
The reason this game WORKED was because we saw parents (and grandparents) bringing their kids to the rink to remember and revel. Guys like Doug Jarvis took to his "home ice" to play in a game for the first since since he became an NHL legend, winning rings and hardware... some of which was on display by the Hockey Hall of Fame in the lobby.
I watched older Brantfordians beam with local pride telling their kids about Doug's iron man record, while keeping one eye on the ice for Adam or Zac Dalphe. They were easy to find. They were the ones scoring goals on Phil McColeman. Then they were the ones the gooey eyed 13 year old girls were following after the game.
That's hockey in Canada. It can make political rock stars like Peter Mackay make the trip from Ottawa for the chance to skate with the masters and still have a glint in his eye when he goofs around with the ever-young Walter Gretzky. It's a glint familiar to those of us in Brantford because we get it too.
BECAUSE the game WORKED, 70,000$ was raised for the Brant United Way. In the Brantford Expositor video wrap up HERE, they caught United Way Executive Director Kristin Pass doing a butter-churn happy dance shortly after seeing how much extra they'd be able to invest into those doing GOOD in the community SHE cares about too.
But my favorite moment of the whole day was after most of the rink had cleared out and I was ready to head to the after-party to celebrate. There was a little old lady waiting outside of the dress room tunnel. She COULDN'T be waiting to ask for an autograph could she?
"Is Paul in there?" she asked me sweetly.
"I'm sorry who?" I responded politely.
"My son is Paul Mackinnon... one of the players" she surprised me with. Paul Mackinnon is a Brantford born, former defenceman for the Washington Capitals.
"I'm not sure ma'am" I smiled enjoying the humor of the moment.
"Darn that Paul. He's been the last one out of the dressing room since he was a little boy. I've been waiting out here for him for him for 50 years!"
Doomsday prophets are concerned that the upcoming NHL labor stoppage will destroy hockey. Nah. Hockey is bigger than that. It's Canadian fabric. You can't fully analyze the comings and goings; ebbs and flows of a city without considering hockey as a factor. Hockey Night in Brantford worked because it celebrated what happens in every rink across this country.