'Hockey Day In Canada' Turns Sweet 16

In an effort to bring more attention to the sport of hockey, I've been writing about the game mainly from a Canadian perspective. Fans of the game don't get more hardcore than the ones who live north of the 49th parallel (although I do know a pretty hardcore hockey fan in Glasgow, Scotland, who cheers for the Braehead Clan of the U.K. Elite Ice Hockey League).

Saturday, February 6th marked the 16th anniversary of "Hockey Day In Canada", the ultimate love letter to the game of hockey. It débuted in February 2000 on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). "Hockey Day", as it is affectionately known, consists of three back-to-back-to-back contests between the Canadian NHL teams, but the jewel in the crown of this folksy, almost hokey event is the coverage from small towns in each Canadian province and territory that take place before, between, and after those games.That coverage pays tribute to the game, and what it means to the people of Canada. I've been known to block off the entire day and keep the television on throughout the 12-14 consecutive hours of coverage. The games are actually secondary to the stories, the memories, and the Canadian people who revere the game even more than the air they breathe.

At its inception, Hockey Day was available only to the people of Canada. As it grew in popularity, the NHL decided to simulcast the feed on its namesake network to American hockey fans. In 2011, the league and NBC, its U.S. broadcasting partner, unveiled a similar event, "Hockey Weekend Across America". This year, the event culminates on February 21st with the outdoor Stadium Series game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Minnesota Wild at TCF Bank Stadium.

This year's Hockey Day host is Kamloops, British Columbia, home to the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League. Many an NHL-er lost a tooth or two playing in the notoriously pugilistic WHL. Former Blazers include Jarome Iginla, Mark Recchi, Darcy Tucker, Craig Berube, Shane Doan, and Ken Daneyko, who all began their careers as junior players in this small town not far from Vancouver.

I'm finding it difficult to articulate what it is I love most about Hockey Day. I thought once I started pounding the laptop keys, my brain would communicate to my fingers all the emotion I feel when I watch this event. This year in particular, I am geographically the closest I've ever been to the town hosting the event. I would have loved to have made the trip to Kamloops to see the festivities in person (including an appearance by the Stanley Cup), but it wasn't possible. Instead, I turned the television on at 9AM Pacific time, and kept it on until the coverage ended.

Hockey Day is my Super Bowl. Even though there isn't a championship at stake, the CBC and Rogers Sportsnet do such a phenomenal job covering an event that exists purely to nourish the souls of hockey fans, not turn the game we all love into a sponsored spectacle. I threw shade on the outdoor games because the NHL has made them into commercial gimmicks. Thankfully, that has not happened to Hockey Day, and the spectacle is still all about the joy of the game. Sure, hockey has its issues like all the other major pro sports, but it's nice to be able to put them aside for a day in order to indulge in the childlike innocence we all feel when we watch the game we love, and revel in its rich history.

Put on your toque and sweater, dish up the poutine, crack open a beer, and take a seat on the Davenport, eh?

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