BY DAVID SALITURO
The eyes of hockey fans across Canada were on Oakville this weekend as Rogers Hometown Hockey came to the city.
The event, hosted by Sportsnet’s Ron MacLean and Tara Slone, took place on Church St. on Saturday and Sunday. Special guests included two-time Stanley Cup champion and Oakville resident Adam Graves, as well as former Toronto Maple Leafs players Darcy Tucker and Darryl Sittler.
Hometown Hockey showcases the popularity of the game at the youth level. Local teams such as the Oakville Rangers and Oakville Hornets were represented at the event with information and merchandise booths. John Verdon, president of the Rangers, says that the event helps build excitement for hockey.
“I think whenever people are interested in hockey it helps enrollment,” he says. “Whenever an event like this comes to town it gets kids interested in hockey, which is what we are looking for.” Verdon says that participation in the Rangers increased this year for the first time in seven years, and the program now has 3,700 players.
The former players who took the stage shared their stories of how youth hockey shaped who they became. Tucker says that one experience in particular shows the close attachment Canadians have for hockey at every level. Returning to the rink in Alberta where his hockey career started, he met the manager who played with him as a kid.
“He said to me that I found your No. 12 jersey in the back and now your son is wearing the same jersey,” Tucker says. “That’s a pretty amazing story, that he remembered my jersey and gave it to me to take back to Toronto for my son.”
Verdon believes that minor hockey is an essential part of the lifestyle of Canadians, and Hometown Hockey is representative of that. “It’s part of the fabric of Canada” he says. “Every town, no matter how big or how small, has someone who made the NHL. Oakville is no different.”
Verdon is especially supportive of Rob Zamuner and Scott Wilson, Oakville natives who both made the NHL. During the event, both the Rangers and Hornets were given $7,500 donations by sponsor Scotiabank.
Adults and kids alike found much to do at Hometown Hockey. From a full-size skating rink down to a miniature stick rink for kids, they got to experience the game of hockey. Wesley Grantic came from Toronto and says that the promise of activities centred around his favourite sport drew him here. “My whole life I’ve been a hockey fan, and this really shows me what is fun about the game,” he says. “Everything here just reminds me of what I love about this game.”
Graves, Tucker and Sittler all signed autographs and took pictures with fans. Kids got to take virtual pictures with their favourite NHL players and took home a free jersey. On the main stage, MacLean and Slone took part in a discussion with Graves and Tucker about their favourite moments growing up in hockey and in the NHL. The event finished on Sunday afternoon with a live broadcast of the Vancouver Canucks against the New York Rangers.
Oakville is just one stop that Hometown Hockey will make in 24 communities across Canada this season. Next week the event goes to Winnipeg. The full schedule is available on the event’s website.
SLIDESHOW BY DAVID SALITURO