Clark, Napier give fans in Campbellton a thrill

The smiles on the faces of Dominic Gallant and Keegan Dube said it all when they came off the ice after a practice with Wendel Clark and Mark Napier as part of the Hockey Day in Canada celebrations.

The smiles on the faces of Dominic Gallant and Keegan Dube said it all when they came off the ice after a practice with former NHL stars Wendel Clark and Mark Napier as part of the Hockey Day in Canada celebrations.

It didn't matter that the six-year-old Gallant and the five-year-old Dube weren't born when Clark and Napier were household names in the NHL.

What made their day on Saturday was how they were on the same ice as the two hockey veterans in Campbellton, N.B., on the banks of the Restigouche River.

"That was a lot of fun," Gallant said as he slipped a Toronto Maple Leafs sweatshirt over his shoulders after the 45-minute Tim Bits practice.

"I liked being the goalie," said Dube. "I made some saves."

Clark and Napier have been fixtures at the Memorial Civic Centre since they arrived in the host city of Hockey Day in Canada earlier in the week. They held more than a handful of clinics with kids of all ages, and not those just from this town.

Organizers invited teams from surrounding towns and villages to be part of one of the biggest events ever held in northern New Brunswick.

Playing with heroes

Gallant and Dube shared the ice with two dozen other five- and six-year-olds as Clark and Napier gave them tips about how to play the game. Parents took pictures from the stands and watched as the hockey heroes skated with their sons and daughters.

At one point, Gallant went head-over-heels when he chase down a puck and flipped over a cushion that divided the ice surface in half for the two groups. Gallant got up, gave his head a shake and jumped back into the play.

"My kind of player," cracked Clark, who on Friday night signed endless autographs and posed for dozen of pictures at a charity banquet and auction that raised $25,000 for the Campbellton Minor Hockey Association.

The visit marks the sixth time Clark has taken his fame on the road to help out in the Hockey Day in Canada events. He loves connecting with the kids, seeing their smiles when they breeze up the ice and answering their questions about playing in the NHL.

"I think it is a lot of fun for the kids,'' said Clark. "The littlest ones, it is all about getting them out here and getting them moving.

"The fun part is in all the communities we go to, the lifeline surrounds the skating rink. It is usually the skating rink in the curling rink in all small communities that is the life of the town.

"If you want to find somebody, you just have to look at one of those two buildings. Because we have long, hard winters, our fun is hockey. It is everywhere in Canada."

Campbellton has a population of about 7,800, which makes it a booming metropolis  compared with Clark's hometown of Kelvington, Sask., population 866.  But Clark sees similarities in the issues facing minor hockey organizations in both places, and all of Canada for that matter.

"You do not let your kids go now. In the old days, we would go across town with our skates and then go home. Now we don't let your kids out of your sight," said Clark. "Hockey and all sports are more structured, now compared to the older days.

"The second one is technology and everyone has (video) games as babysitters, compared to putting them on the ice and let them be active."

Medals awarded

None of that mattered, however, for the two dozen kids taking part in the Tim Bits clinic.

At the end of the session, each child was presented with a medal to commemorate the event.

"I'm putting it with my other medals," said a beaming Dube.

It's moments like this that hit home with Napier.

"For me, this brings back fabulous memories as a kid, chasing the puck and having fun with it. It has been really eye-opening to be here this weekend and be around Hockey Day," Napier said.

"It is great to see the reaction from the community, and the kids are great."