Winkler warms up for Hockey Day in Canada

The National Hockey League begins arriving in Winkler, Man., Thursday as the small town gears up to host the 2008 edition of CBC's Hockey Day in Canada.

The National Hockey League begins arriving in Winkler, Man., Thursday as the small town gears up to host the 2008 edition of CBC's Hockey Day in Canada.

CBC Sports personalities Ron MacLean, Don Cherry, Cassie Campbell and Dick Irvin, along with several former hockey heroes, will be in Winkler for the daylong festivities to be broadcast on Saturday from 11 a.m. CT.

The city of nearly 10,000 in the Pembina Valley region about 100 kilometres south of Winnipeg is buzzing with excitement as organizers make final preparations for the festivities.

"It is an historic event — as a matter of fact, it's being termed as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to celebrate together like this," said Winkler Mayor Martin Harder.

"It's almost like getting the NHL — the Stanley Cup coming again to Winkler, it's such as exciting event."

Event organizer and schoolteacher Darren Crane is preparing staff and students at Winkler's school for visits by hockey icons.

"I'm not even sure if the kids realize how big an event this is," he said.  "We're going to pump them up, get them excited and talk about hockey."

CBC launches days of special hockey-related programming Thursday night with a Toronto-Montreal game. Because of the game, CBC News at Six will air Thursday at 5 p.m., live from Winkler.

Penner, Belfour: Winkler connections

The Stanley Cup was previously in Winkler in July 2007, brought by hometown hockey icon Dustin Penner, who was fresh off a championship win with the Anaheim Ducks. Penner has since been acquired to play a major role for the Edmonton Oilers.

Former Vezina and Calder Trophy winner Ed Belfour is another prominent NHLer with roots in the town, having played goal in the mid-1980s for the Winkler Flyers.

More recently, the Flyers won three Manitoba Junior Hockey League titles during the 1990s.

The Flyers will take on the rival Selkirk Steelers on Saturday at Winkler Arena. Harder said the building frequently draws crowds of more than 1,000 for games with their provincial rivals.

All six Canadian teams will be in action for games broadcast by CBC Sports on Saturday.

Toronto hosts Detroit in the afternoon to kick off the slate of games, while Colorado is in Vancouver to end the night. In between, television viewers across Canada will see either Montreal at Ottawa or Penner and the Oilers visiting Calgary.

Community evolved

Games will be streamed at

Between games, Hockey Day will focus on stories of how people's lives have been changed by the journey through the game of hockey.

Winkler, which celebrated its centennial last year, has evolved from a settlement of Mennonites originating in Russia to a recently incorporated city that boasts residents from more than 40 countries.

Winkler joins the geographically diverse list of Hockey Day hosts, which has included Nelson, B.C., Stephenville, N.L., Shaunavon, Sask., Iqualuit, Nunavut, Windsor, N.S., Red Deer, Alta., and Toronto.

Hockey Day in Canada has been recognized with three Gemini Awards since its debut.