The NHL is coming to the Saanich Peninsula next season.
Panorama Recreation Centre's Arena B in North Saanich erupted in cheers and shouts as the announcement was made Saturday afternoon that the rink was the top vote-getter in the final round of the Kraft Hockeyville competition. Their 1.1 million votes put Panorama over the top — not only to take home $100,000 for arena improvements, but to host an NHL preseason game. Panorama defeated Chatham, Ontario for Hockeyville's premier award.
The announced match will be between the Vancouver Canucks and the San Jose Sharks, featuring Peninsula hockey product Matt Irwin.
Jason Fletcher, who initially nominated Panorama in the Kraft Hockeyville challenge, says he was thrilled that the rink won and he quickly credited the community and the scores of volunteers who made it all happen.
"We were half a million votes better," he says. "Hats off to all of the volunteers. I may have started the ball rolling but this went a lot bigger than just me."
Fletcher was celebrating his birthday Saturday and says the Hockeyville win certainly was a topper.
He says the effort and all of the votes shows that hockey is ingrained in everyone's spirit in Canada.
"It doesn't have to be 30 degrees below zero or covered in snow," Fletcher says, indicating Vancouver Island's typically balmy winter weather. "This will be great for the kids to see their heroes play hockey on the Saanich Peninsula."
Wayne Ruffle, chair of the Peninsula Recreation Commission, says he sends his thanks out to everyone who voted, as well as Panorama staff and community volunteers who worked hard to get the word out.
"My head is just spinning," Ruffle says. "And congratulations, too, to Chatham for being right there and winning $100,000 as well. It's a fabulous thing to happen to our area."
Saanich Peninsula community leaders were on hand to witness the event. Sidney and Central Saanich mayors Steve Price and Ryan Windsor, respectively, noted the NHL game will be a boon for the region. They agreed that on a larger scale, it was the community that did the work.
North Saanich Councillor Geoff Orr, whose children played in the arena coming up with Peninsula Minor Hockey, says Panorama may be in his community, but so many people throughout the area use it.
"It's a Peninsula thing," Orr says, adding he still plays adult rec. hockey there.
Saanich North and the Islands MLA Gary Holman adds the win was "remarkable". He says even MLAs from across B.C. got on board. Panorama in his riding, and Dawson Creek in the riding of Liberal MLA Mike Bernier, were in the finals for the west. The two agreed, says Holman, to support each other should one emerge victorious.
"Mike lived up to his end of the bargain," Holman says.
Fletcher notes that now the work begins. He says representatives with the NHL will be in North Saanich Tuesday (April 7) to inspect the arena and begin the preparations to hold the hockey game at Panorama.
"We get to showcase our community on a very big stage," he says.