By Joe Pelletier
TERRACE, B.C. – Hockeyville weekend may not be the biggest event on the NHL calendar, but it may have been the biggest event ever to hit the small town of Terrace, B.C.
This past weekend, Terrace was officially crowned as Kraft Hockeyville 2009. In March, Terrace won the nationwide television contest, edging out Humboldt, Sask., for $100,000 in arena improvements and the right to hold an NHL pre-season game. The reality show contest seeks out the most spirited hockey town in Canada and is voted upon by the viewers. Terrace received more than 1.9 million votes to earn the right to host the Canucks and the first exhibition game of 2009.
The party atmosphere went into full effect Sunday. Following a huge pancake breakfast at George Little Memorial Park, the star of the weekend made it's appearance – the Stanley Cup. There was no room to spare as thousands wanted to see and touch hockey's holy grail.
Other Sunday events included concerts in the park, an outdoor screening of the Mighty Ducks movie and a series of clinics for local players and referees run by NHL alumni members Bryan Trottier, Ken Morrow, Cliff Ronning and Dave Babych, Canadian Olympic gold medalist Cassie Campbell and NHL on-ice officials.
The most popular people on the autograph circuit, though, were undoubtedly the CBC’s Ron MacLean and Don Cherry, who arrived on Sunday and stole the show.
Game day finally came around Monday. The Canucks and Islanders arrived bright and early, each taking a one-hour morning practice that was open to the public, with mostly school children and minor hockey players attending. The players dispersed in the afternoon, some doing meet-and-greets, while others travelled to local classrooms to speak to kids and sign autographs.
A huge pre-game pep rally back at the park began at 4 p.m. With game tickets so scarce, the true heart of Hockeyville was at the park, braving autumn temperatures and a bit of rain, cheering on the Canucks, while watching on the big screens set up for the event.
Hockeyville went home happy as their Canucks pulled out a 2-1 victory over the Islanders. Rookie Sergei Shirokov, the game's first star, scored both goals for the Canucks. Jon Sim replied for the Islanders. Rick Rypien, who fought twice in the game, received the largest cheers from the blue collar fans of Hockeyville.
Fans did not seem to mind the fact that the most popular players were not in attendance. Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, Roberto Luongo and the Islanders' John Tavares did not travel to Terrace. In their absence, Willie Mitchell and Kevin Bieksa were the two most popular players by far, although neither played in the game.
All in all it was a great weekend for hockey and an unforgettable weekend for Terrace, which is located some 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) north of Vancouver.
Terrace is the service center of northwestern B.C. With an approximate official population of 12,000, inflating to about 20,000 including the nearby areas and native villages, pretty much the entire region could fit inside GM Place or Nassau Coliseum.
Those population numbers are down significantly from a decade ago. Logging was easily the No. 1 industry in town, but in the past decade one mill has been dismantled, while the other is used periodically at best. Not surprisingly, many people have had to leave town.
What keeps this community going is an undeterred spirit. It is that spirit that brought the NHL, the Canucks and the Islanders to town. It is that spirit that earned Terrace the title of Kraft Hockeyville 2009.
For more coverage of Kraft Hockeyville 2009, check out greatesthockeylegends.com
By Joe Pelletier