Hockeyville is a reminder of what to love about the game, says Ron MacLean

Some of hockey's biggest names are in O'Leary, P.E.I., for the Kraft Hockeyville festivities that started Sunday, leading up to Monday's game at Credit Union Place.

The Hockey Night in Canada host says it's 'enormous' opportunity for O'Leary, P.E.I.

Ron MacLean, host of Hockey Night in Canada, says he loves events that celebrate hockey community at a grassroots level. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Some of hockey's biggest names are in in O'Leary, P.E.I., for the Kraft Hockeyville festivities that started Sunday, leading up to Monday's game at Credit Union Place.

Along with players from the Ottawa Senators and New Jersey Devils, as well as NHL alumni, were Coach's Corner commentator Don Cherry and Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean.

Even though not all Islanders support the Devils or Senators, MacLean said winning the Hockeyville competition will do great things for O'Leary. 

Don Cherry, Coach's Corner commentator, was on hand for the festivities at Credit Union Place on Monday. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"It's enormous," MacLean said.

"The legacy of Kraft and the Players Association and the NHL pushing money into hockey is so huge."

MacLean started coming to P.E.I. for Brad Richards' charity golf tournament every summer, and says he has made good friends with some of the people he's met during his time on the Island.

'A throwback'

MacLean said the best part of events like Hockeyville is getting back to the grassroots hockey community that produces the NHL players fans watch every season.

"It always is a throwback. It's a reminder of what it is you really loved about the game," said MacLean.

"All those people behind your path to the NHL."

Ron MacLean moderated a question and answer session with Cody Ceci and Ryan Dzingel of the Ottawa Senators and Adam Henrique and Taylor Hall of the New Jersey Devils. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

MacLean said he and Cherry appreciate the game at every level, and having the opportunity to be such a big part of the Canadian hockey community is something neither of them take for granted.

"I think it means more to Don and I know it does to me, to play beer league hockey or referee as I did for 23 years, than it does to be on Hockey Night In Canada, so this is us," MacLean said. 

"We always have that kind of pinch yourself, 'How the heck do you end up on Hockey Night In Canada and get to be the ambassadors for that whole idea?'"

'Ready to rumble'

MacLean also weighed in on what he thinks expectations with the league's newest team, the Vegas Golden Knights, should be.

"I think even though it's Vegas and you think of glitz and money, I think it's going to be known more for like a heavyweight," MacLean said. 

"Let's get ready to rumble, that's what it's going to be like and it's going to be great."

He said the team in Las Vegas is built like their head coach Gerard Gallant.

"Gerard, he never backed down … all those Island hockey players, usually the stories turn to brawls, but they were tough."

Olympic disappointment

MacLean said he understand the league's decision to forego the upcoming Olympics in Pyongchang, South Korea, but he does lament the change after almost 20 years of NHL participation.

"Of course I'm disappointed," MacLean said.

There has to be a drive, an almost obsession with what you're doing.- Ron MacLean

"I just love, like at the Invictus Games, warring nations are competing together. I just love the symbolism of the Olympic Games."

Though it won't happen in 2018, MacLean is holding out hope things will change in time for the next Winter Olympic Games in 2022, and he'll still be watching this Febraury. 

"It's a blip, let's hope. And I certainly will find myself wrapping myself in the flag and enjoying the game at the Olympics, with or without the NHL I suppose."

'You need to love it'

 Four players — Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Ryan Dzingel and Cody Ceci — fielded questions from kids on Monday. 

MacLean said the answers he heard from those athletes hammered home his best advice for young players hoping to make the NHL one day.

"The truth that kind of came out of the players again today, I don't want anybody to ever forsake their education, forsake other aspects of their life, but there has to be a drive, an almost obsession with what you're doing," MacLean said.

"If you do love it, and you need to love it and that has to make it fun, then really, keep a diary, work on something new each and every day and just go for it. Really really go after it cause it requires that 100 per cent dedication.

"Like the players today, you're sitting and asked 'What would you do if it wasn't hockey?' you say 'I don't know, there's nothing else I can do.'"

With files from Jay Scotland