When the hockey world focuses its attention on the Tim Hortons Hockey Day in Canada festivities in the bilingual community of Campbellton on Feb. 21, they will see a place that speaks volumes about why Canadians love the game.
"There is a real buzz in the community,'' said Campbellton Mayor Bruce MacIntosh, who became somewhat of a hockey legend in these parts a couple of decades ago, when he became the first to shatter a pane of glass at old Memorial Gardens when he fired off his blistering slap shot.
"People love hockey here. They are excited to be in the national spotlight and it's going to be a great event."
Local businesses have signs up in their storefronts in support of the CBC's annual day-long tribute to the game. There have been writing and sign-making contests at the local schools on hockey-related themes and the projects will be put on display at the Memorial Civic Centre.
People have been rummaging through their closets for the two Don Cherry look-alike contests that are part of the festivities.
The city has built an outdoor rink on an area that used to be the local wharf, where immigrants to Canada were welcomed to their new homeland.
Campbellton was the host city to the 2003 Canada Winter Games and the local people are anxious to have the national spotlight shine on them again.
The slate of events includes pick-up hockey, youth clinics run by former NHL players, and local minor hockey games, ranging from the Timbit level all the way up to Midget AAA.
Cherry and Ron MacLean will be on hand for the Hockey Night in Canada telecast. The popular Coach's Corner segment will be broadcast live from the Memorial Civic Centre during the first intermission of the game between the Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks, which, coincidentally, is former Toronto captain Mats Sundin's return to the Air Canada Centre.
There will be updates from the Maritime Junior A tilt between the Restigouche Tigers and Dieppe Commandos.
Cherry and MacLean also headline a sold-out banquet and fundraiser on Feb. 20, with all proceeds going to the Campbellton Minor Hockey Association.
Grant, O'Ree to be on hand
Former New Brunswick NHL greats Danny Grant and Willie O'Ree, along with Mark Napier and broadcaster Dick Irvin Jr., will all be on hand for the weekend.
The celebrations would not be complete without the Stanley Cup, which will be on display, along with other hockey memorabilia, at the Campbellton Sports Hall of Fame. Admission is a donation to a local food bank.
The VIPs will also include New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham and several members of his cabinet. There's not shortage of people coming home for the weekend from all corners of Canada.
"There's no shortage of demand for tickets, for hotel rooms," said MacIntosh.
The local organizing committee has had events schedule printed and they will be posted all over the city. That way, people will know what is happening and can stroll down to the Civic Centre to participate in the fun.
4 days to remember
"It'll be four days of events that people will definitely remember — hockey is almost a religion to us here," said Ian Comeau, the president of the organizing committee.
MacIntosh was pleased when the parents of Luc Bourdon, the former Vancouver Canuck defenceman who died in a motorcycle accident in northern New Brunswick last summer, agreed to attend. Bourdon was a favourite in this part of the Maritimes and there is a tribute planned in his honour.
The Hockey Day in Canada festivities coincides with the city's Snow Fest, an annual winter festival. As part of the Snow Fest, the road that runs along the waterfront leading to the Memorial Civic Centre will be lined with ice sculptures.
The local area also has some of the best snowmobile trails in northern New Brunswick and the Snow Fest attracts snowmobilers from throughout Atlantic Canada and Quebec.
"Snow is not an issue," said MacIntosh. "This is going to be a great, great weekend.
"People are excited and it just shows the kind of support we have in the community," MacIntosh said.HOCKEY FORUM: Should Hockey Day in Canada be a national holiday? Join the Our Game discussion.