For the last two months, Campbellton Middle School students have decorated their entire building with hundreds of ties and images of Don Cherry as the northern New Brunswick community prepared for Hockey Day in Canada.
When he arrived in Campbellton, Cherry heard about the paper ties that the students had coloured, and made a last-minute change to his packed itinerary.
Former NHL players such as Wendel Clark, Mark Napier and Willie O'Ree were regaling the crowd of students in the gymnasium with old hockey stories when the Coach's Corner icon made his surprise visit.
Cherry was greeted with a deafening roar from the roughly 265 Grade 5 to 8 students who had not been expecting to see the former NHL coach. Wearing a black-and-white plaid suit with a red tie, Cherry's attire was far more muted than the drawings the students made of him or the jackets worn by many of the administrators, teachers and staff at the school.
'That was the most exciting thing of my life. "Ottawa may have Obama but we have Don Cherry.'— Brenda Hamilton, school administrative assistant
During his brief visit, Cherry was mobbed by young fans. He took time to pose for photos with students like 11-year-old Spencer Irvine, a Grade 5 student who wore his Toronto Maple Leafs shirt.
He strolled through the gym, admiring a massive replica jacket that the students had made for him and signing many of the brightly coloured cutouts of him.
Cherry proudly showed off a blue-and-yellow Campbellton Middle School toque that a school administrator knitted for him, and was presented with dozens of ties that Brenda Hamilton, the school's administrative assistant, gave Cherry to wear on Coach's Corner.
"That was the most exciting thing of my life. Ottawa may have Obama but we have Don Cherry," Hamilton said, referring U.S. President Barack Obama's Thursday trip to the nation's capital.
Students spent 2 months decoratingDon Cherry autographs one of hundreds of ties and images of the Coach's Corner star at Campbellton Middle School. (Daniel McHardie/CBC)
Every afternoon since December, students led by art teacher Laurette Cyr had spent a daily activity period decorating the school.
Mike Graham, a vice-principal at the school, said preparing for the hockey event has kept students' attention for months.
"They were very excited," Graham said.
"I had a student come to me in the cafeteria [on Thursday] and said, 'It's the first time in my life that I hope there is school tomorrow instead of a storm day!'"
As Cherry was leaving, he gave a thumbs-up to two local Mounties.
He also spotted a Union Jack flag underneath a faded photo of the Queen. Cherry stopped, still wearing his Campbellton toque, and sang the first verse of "God Save the Queen." School staff applauded vigorously.