It was clear who was the “home” team for Monday night’s Kraft Hockeyville game at The Q Centre in Colwood.
The sea of blue and green jerseys gave the Vancouver Canucks a distinct edge over their opponent, the San Jose Sharks, in the fan support department.
And one particular Canuck, Colwood native Adam Cracknell, no doubt gained a new following after he scored the winner 1:38 into the NHL’s newly minted three-on-three overtime to give Vancouver a 1-0 win in their first pre-season game. The newest Canucks signee, who played his minor hockey up the hill at Juan de Fuca Arena, snapped a shot over Sharks goalie Aaron Dell’s shoulder to send the sellout crowd to their feet.
“I had a lot of time and picked the corner,” he said afterward, amid a throng of media members. He added it felt good to score the winner and play in front of some of the old hockey buddies.
“I’m sure I scored a lot of Stanley Cup winning-goals on the road (playing street hockey), but this was pretty big.”
The 30-year-old journeyman forward, who has played 82 NHL games in abbreviated stints with St. Louis and Columbus since 2010 and once played for the Saanich junior B Braves, had many friends and family in the crowd. Among them was Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton, who posed for pictures after the game with the 6-1, 216-pound right winger.
North Saanich won the right to host an NHL game plus $100,000 for arena upgrades from the national Hockeyville contest. The game was shifted to the larger arena from the community’s Panorama Recreation Centre for various reasons, not least to accommodate national TV coverage.
Nonetheless, there was very much a North Saanich flavour to the night.
Numerous banners around the place celebrated the municipality as Hockeyville, longtime Peninsula Minor Hockey volunteer Cliff Orr dropped the puck for the ceremonial opening face-off, and a collection of young Peninsula Eagles players did the ice scrapes during the commercial breaks, helped on occasion by referees and linesmen.
“There’s a nice ambiance here,” Central Saanich resident Ethelwyn Smith said during the second intermission. Unlike most of the jersey-wearing adults at the game, she showed her loyalty by donning a Peninsula Eagles minor hockey shirt.
“My son and daughter both played minor hockey at Peninsula,” said Smith, whose son, Brian, grew up and played hockey with the NHL’s Benn brothers, Jordie and Jamie, and “spent hours on the tennis courts” with them on the Smiths’ property. “Everyone is quite proud. I think it’s remarkable that this community (North Saanich) was able to pull this off.”
Veteran commentator Don Cherry, who partnered with CBC’s Ron McLean for an on-ice Coach’s Corner instalment, made reference to the Benns, as well as Victoria’s Courtnall brothers – NHLers from a previous generation – in his comments.
Hamilton, representing the host municipality, said to her mind the Hockeyville program is all about bringing the game back to its roots.
“I think it’s about reiterating a sense of community,” she said. “Every one of those guys out there started out on a rink like this, or smaller, like a backyard pond.”
For the young fans in attendance, she said, “memories are being made here. Kids are going to go off to school tomorrow and be talking about being here.”
With the ice back in, the B.C. Hockey League’s Victoria Grizzlies and Island junior B league’s Westshore Wolves regain their home arena.
The Wolves are scheduled to play the Kerry Park Islanders on Wednesday at 7 p.m., while the Grizzlies play their home opener next Thursday (Oct. 1) against the Coquitlam Express.