James Leonardo

Panorama rec centre celebrates Hockeyville

Canucks win pre-season contest in front of thousands of fans from Saanich Peninsula

  • Sep. 22, 2015 9:00 a.m.

Jim Zeeben

News staff

Hundreds of hockey fans helped turn the Panorama Recreation Centre into a celebration of Canada’s national game on Sunday, Sept. 20.

The Saanich Peninsula stepped into the national spotlight after being named Kraft Hockeyville for 2015 in April.

On Monday, a pre-season game between the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks was played at The Q Centre in Colwood. The game was originally allotted to Panorama but because of the Central Saanich rink’s limited capacity the game was moved to The Q Centre, which can seat 2,700 people.

However, Panorama will receive $100,000 in upgrades for winning the nationwide contest.

Canucks win exhibition

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.

But Ethelwyn Smith’s loyalties fell to a more local organization. The Central Saanich resident was one of a much smaller number of adults who donned a Peninsula Eagles minor hockey jersey for the NHL pre-season exhibition.

“My son and daughter both played minor hockey at Peninsula,” she said in between periods of what ultimately ended as a 1-0 overtime win for Vancouver. “Everyone is quite proud. I think it’s remarkable that this community (North Saanich) was able to pull this off.”

While 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, there was very much a North Saanich flavour to the night.

Given the numerous banners around the place celebrating the municipality as Hockeyville, longtime Peninsula Minor Hockey volunteer Cliff Orr dropping the puck for the ceremonial opening face-off, and the collection of young Eagles players doing the ice scrapes during the commercial breaks, a person dropped into the building might have believed they were actually in North Saanich.

“There’s a nice ambiance here,” 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.

Even 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.

Another Central Saanich resident, James McNulty, said of the proceedings that it was good for nominator Jason Fletcher and North Saanich’s Hockeyville campaign organizing committee to “get a break and get to enjoy this.”

“The parking lot party yesterday (Sept. 20 at Panorama) was great, too. This is a once in a lifetime thing for the kids.”

Longtime Sidney resident Tracey Miller, a diehard Calgary hockey fan, was forbidden by her son, Kole – he’s a Canucks fan and ****Peninsula News Review carrier – from wearing her Flames jersey and so bought an Eagles shirt for the occasion.

Miller admitted she wasn’t thrilled with the idea of another community hosting the big game, but was glad Panorama would be receiving the $100,000 Hockeyville first prize for arena upgrades. She worked in the concession at the arena after high school.

“I was saying to my son on the way over, ‘did you ever think we’d be driving to a Canucks games?'” she said.

Asked for his take on the game midway through, Kole said it was was exciting to be at his first NHL game. The only thing that would make it better, he said, would be “if Vancouver scored.”

Those blue-shirted fans got their wish 1:38 into three-on-three overtime, when Adam Cracknell, a former Island Junior B player with the Saanich Braves who grew up in Colwood, scored the winner.

The 30-year-old journeyman forward, who has played 82 NHL games in abbreviated stints with St. Louis and Columbus since 2010, had many friends and family in the crowd. He said afterward it felt good to score the winner and to play in front of some of his former hockey playing buddies.

“It felt good to get back on the ice like that,” he said. “Usually I can hear my mom whistling (when he scores), but not tonight, because there was too much noise.”

Without a doubt, most of the Peninsula fans who won the lottery for tickets to the game were among those cheering.

– Don Descoteau

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