Last month, millions of Canadians tuned in for the CBC’s Hockey Day: 11th Annual Hockey Day in Canada broadcast, which was hosted this year by the city of Whitehorse in the Yukon. One of the goals in celebrating the “unofficial” national sport is to grow the game, while exploring the rich history of hockey with segments and inspirational stories from across Canada. Mark Napier, the Executive Director of the NHL Alumni Association, travelled to Whitehorse with several of his fellow alumni members to take part in the festivities and spend time with hockey fans.
“This was my first real trip up there,” said Napier. “I was up there once before with an old-timers group but we didn’t get a chance to see the city, so this trip was pretty special. It was a lot of fun to see the community and how they rallied around Hockey Day in Canada. It was a great celebration of our game.”
“Hockey Day really works in the smaller towns, not to say that a bigger city like Toronto wouldn’t get behind it and do a great job, but it’s the local flavour and the hospitality of the people – they were just so thrilled that we would take the time to come up and see them. They really showed their appreciation in everything that they did and it made for a really great event.”
Hockey Day in Canada has become a weeklong celebration and this year was no exception. A special exhibit of the Yukon’s hockey history opened at MacBride Museum, there was a gala dinner and concert, a WHL game between the Kamloops Blazers and Vancouver Giants, the Ottawa Senators Alumni renewed their rivalry with the Dawson City Nuggets, and the NHL Alumni members hosted numerous coaching clinics for boys and girls of all ages.
“Scotiabank is a huge sponsor of ours, so I did a lot of events for them,” Napier explained. “It was kind of neat; we met the Bantam team from New Brunswick that won a prize to come up to Whitehorse. Trevor Linden coached one team, Wendel Clark coached the other as Lanny McDonald and I sat and watched. It was a lot of fun and a great game.”
“We also went to the WHL game and there were a ton of coaching clinics throughout the three days we were there. We did a signing at the Scotiabank too, with Trevor, Lanny and I, along with the Stanley Cup. There was a lineup around the block – it was a really wonderful experience!”
In my conversations with NHL Alumni members, it is clear that they enjoy their role as ambassadors for the game and helping to grow the sport at the grass-roots level. Whether they are taking to the ice for coaching clinics at an event like Hockey Day in Canada or helping to raise money for charity in their local communities, it provides them with the opportunity to get together as friends and share their hockey knowledge with a new generation of players.
“The kids were so enthusiastic; it’s really fun for us. We were that age once and we remember what it was like to meet an NHLer and get an autograph, it was pretty special. I’m proud of our guys for taking the time and being part of these events.”
“Our guys are so giving of their time and they do so much for charity,” Napier said proudly. “The local chapters raise a ton of money and we try to help them out at the national level as well. It is also about being in the community and giving back through coaching and doing clinics at the minor hockey level, and basically, being guardians of the game, the game that we grew up loving.”
Guardians of the game, a perfect way to describe hockey’s greatest family – the NHL Alumni Association. With Mark Napier leading the way, it is safe to say that the game is in very good hands.
Image Resource: John Biehler – JohnBiehler.com
Andrew Rodger is an independent sports columnist and member of the Canadian Association of Journalists. Along with operating The Voice of Sport, he covers the Ottawa Senators and writes the “Ask the Alumni” series here at The Hockey Writers. He is the resident writer for the NHL Alumni Association and a contributor on CBC News Now.