The eyes of the nation watched the Cowichan Valley put on a great show during Rogers Hometown Hockey weekend.
The pre-game show, intermission and post-game of Sunday night’s National Hockey League broadcast of the Winnipeg Jets and the Vancouver Canucks from Winnipeg prominently featured the Cowichan Valley’s people, the hockey culture and hospitality.
“The Jets win and so does the Cowichan Valley,” said Hometown Hockey’s Ron MacLean after the 1-0 game.
Co-host Tara Slone spent three days in the area while MacLean was whisked in for the finale Sunday after a whirlwind trip from Corner Brook, Newfoundland, the site of his Hockey Day in Canada duties Saturday.
“The hockey spirit is alive and well and the community spirit is very much intertwined with that,” noted Slone.
“Just really everybody here, everyone was warm and welcoming,” she added.
A highlight for Slone was taking part in a traditional Tribes sweat lodge ceremony. “It was a very special experience and transformative almost,” she enthused.
MacLean cited the influence of Ernie Mansueti, the main man of an incredible organizing committee, for making the visit possible.
“He was the guy who came to Nanaimo last year and said, ‘Can we please bring this event to the Cowichan Valley,’” MacLean recalled.
The weekend celebrated the rich history of not only hockey in the region, but other sports such as golf where Lake Cowichan product Dawn Coe-Jones made such an impact.
Lake Cowichan was included as part of the festivities Friday, with local players Steve Lingren, Brad Palmer and Brian Lundberg representing Hometown at the Cowichan Lake jamboree by assisting and giving out prizes at the skills competition.
Greg Adams, Doug Bodger and Robin Bawa were among those interviewed during the national broadcast to reflect on their paths to the NHL that included stints playing hockey at Fuller Lake Arena.
“It’s been wonderful for our community,” Adams told MacLean and Slone after his interview about the Hometown Hockey visit.
The Hometown site at the Cowichan Aquatic Centre, with the World’s Largest Hockey Stick and Puck in the background along the Island Savings Centre Arena, had a festival atmosphere Saturday and Sunday.
Mansueti pointed out the goal was to include video footage from every area of the region:
Ladysmith – Light-up parade and footage of Doug Bodger and Tara Slone kayaking in the harbour.
Lake Cowichan – Paint the Town Red and a Minor Hockey Jamboree.
First Nations – On behalf of the Cowichan Region, Tribes Councillor Craig George presented a Cowichan sweater to MacLean and a Cowichan vest to Slone. The Tzinquaw Dancers opened the festival while Fred Roland, with Robert George, opened his home to host Slone for the sweat lodge experience.
Schools – About 450 school students from the entire region – Ladysmith Intermediate, Crofton, Discovery, Khowhemun, Lake Cowichan and Tansor Elementary Schools – attended the Hometown school day event and 21 teams participated in a school floor hockey tournament that resulted in two finals played at the festival rink. Grades 4-5 Maple Bay played Alex Aitken and Grades 6-7 Bench faced Lake Cowichan.
School Hockey – An invitation was extended to the high school hockey programs that included Frances Kelsey, Cowichan, Brentwood and Shawnigan.
Minor Hockey – Kerry Park, Cowichan Lake and Cowichan Valley were all critical to the success of Hometown. Timbit and Atom, ball hockey, clean-up crews, three-star selection and the parade of champions with 700 kids participating surpassed all others to date.
Rogers Hometown – Partnering with the Cowichan Ol’ Hustlers Oldtimers, the Hometown Team participated in the ALS Hockey Tournament that raised more than $6,200. The Craig Street Brew Pub Night raised more than $7,000 for KidSport Cowichan and Slone sang with Lance Lapointe. Liz and Lance Steward provided meals and refreshments for the crew and the pub night was at capacity.
Not many events of this magnitude usually come to smaller communities. To enjoy the interactive booths, the entertainment with 54-40, meet NHL Alumni (Brenden Morrison/Geoff Courtnall) and receive swag all at no-cost, it was pretty amazing.
“The entire Rogers Hometown broadcast and operations crew marveled at the hospitality and beauty of our community,” Mansueti indicated. “They were simply over the moon about being here in Cowichan and how they were treated.
“What we accomplished is add the personal community touches to make it the best event this season for Rogers Hometown Hockey. Through the rain and wind, it was estimated by Rogers that between 8,500, and 9,000 people attended the two days. This did not include the school visit, ALS hockey tournament, Cowichan Lake Jamboree or the pub night. This easily raises the number past 10,000.”