Campbellton counting down to Hockey Day
CAMPBELLTON, N.B. — As much as Ian Comeau can hardly wait for spring to come, the last thing he wants is for warm weather to play havoc during one of the biggest days in this town's history.
Comeau is the head of the organizing committee for Tim Hortons Hockey Day in Canada. The day-long salute to the coolest game on ice is set for Saturday and Comeau would like nothing more than a cool, crisp day, which usually isn't a problem at this time of the year in northern New Brunswick.
"We had a perfect day a couple of days ago," said Comeau. "It was four or maybe five below, and sunny. Just a perfect day.
"But a couple of days before that, it was –25, with the wind chill. That's cold."
There will a certain irony if there is a cool breeze coming off the Restigouche River where it empties into the Bay of Chaleur during the Hockey Day in Canada festivities. It was a hot summer day when Jacques Cartier visited this area in the 1530s, and he named the body of water Chaleur Bay. Chaleur is French for heat.
But the weather gods look to be smiling on this town along the border of New Brunswick and Quebec. The long-range forecast calls for sunshine, with a high of –9 C on Hockey Day in Canada.
And if it holds, that will be good new for CBC's Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean. Parts of the first three hours of the day-long broadcast will be from an outdoor rink that is set along the banks of the Restigouche. MacLean and Wendel Clark will play host to a series of clinics on the outdoor rink.
"If there is a cold wind coming up the bay, it won’t be pleasant," said Comeau.
Weather aside, the countdown is definitely on for the showcase event.
Comeau was at a bantam hockey tournament at the Memorial Civic Gardens over the weekend and the talk was more about MacLean and Don Cherry coming to town than it was about the NHL's trade deadline.
"Everybody is excited, especially all the minor hockey kids,'' said Comeau. "Everyone is looking forward to this."
A walk through the town shows how excitement is definitely building.
More than three dozen businesses have adorned their front windows with pictures of Cherry and MacLean. The local thrift store is doing a brisk business with people trying to find the perfect get-up for the Don Cherry Look Alike contests.
"There's some interesting pictures," said Comeau.
The talk at the Tim Hortons along Roseberry Street is about how proud Campbelltonians are of being selected to play host to the must-watch television event.
As the big day approaches, the committees that have been working for months on making Hockey Day in Canada a success are poring through their final checklists, making sure everything is in place.
They've had to order more Hockey Day in Canada tuques, along with other merchandise.
"We're ready," said Comeau. "The VIPs are ready to come and we're ready to show everyone a good time."
The VIPs include Premier Shawn Graham and members of the New Brunswick cabinet.
There is no doubt that Campbellton's profile will be raised. This area has been hit hard by the economic downtown, and the economy of Restigouche County lost $65 million worth of salaries over the last couple of years.
But hockey is a common thread in this part of Canada.
Campbellton has a rich hockey history and it is the hometown of Philadelphia Flyers coach John Stevens and Hockey Hall of Fame broadcaster Peter Maher. NHLers Bill Dickie, Cory Larose, John LeBlanc and Bill Miller also also came from here.
While there is much excitement about how NHLers Wendel Clark and Mark Napier will hold clinics with minor hockey teams, one of the biggest attractions will be the Stanley Cup.
The festivities also include school visits by NHL stars and an auction with the proceeds going to the local minor hockey association. Hockey Day in Canada events will run over three days here.
"Everything is set to go," said Comeau. "Maybe it would be all right if it snowed a little bit, like it did in that outdoor game in Buffalo a few years ago."
He was referring to the New Year's Day 2008 game between Pittsburgh and Buffalo where Sidney Crosby, who played in Campbellton in the 2003 Canada Winter Games tournament, scored in a snowy shootout.
"Just a little snow,'' added Comeau.