Queen drops puck, raises cheer in arena

Queen ends busy day of events in B.C. by dropping ceremonial first puck at an NHL game in Vancouver
Queen Elizabeth II drops the puck during the ceremonial face-off between Markus Naslund (right) of the Vancouver Canucks and Mike Ricci of the San Jose Sharks at General Motors Place in Vancouver, B.C. on Sunday, October 6, 2002. Looking on is Ed Jovanovski (left), Cassie Campbell and Wayne Gretzky. (Chuck Stoody/The Canadian Press)

It was not a Stanley Cup game. But then again Lord Stanley was only a governor general and the person at centre ice Sunday night was the Queen.

For the first time in her 50-year reign, Canada's head of state dropped the ceremonial puck at the start of a hockey game.

The crowd at GM place in Vancouver erupted as she walked out on the red carpet to centre ice, accompanied by NHL legend Wayne Gretzky. Former Maple Leafs player Howie Meeker and Cassie Campbell, the captain of the Canadian women's Olympic gold medal team, stood behind them.

Members of the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks banged their sticks on the ice in a traditional hockey salute as Elizabeth II smiled at the packed crowd of more than 18,000. A boys' choir sang God Save the Queen.

Wearing gloves, pearls and carrying a hand-bag, she looked over the ceremonial puck for a few seconds before holding it over centre ice and then letting it fall between the two team captains.

She and Prince Philip then went to a special box in the arena to watch the first period of the match the first NHL game she has seen in more than 50 years. The royal couple watched a game between the Canadiens and Rangers in Montreal in 1951, when she was still a princess.

The Queen spent most of the weekend in Victoria, after arriving in Canada on Friday. She made no public appearances Saturday.

Sunday began with a visit to Christ Church Cathedral. Hundreds of people lined the streets leading to the church to watch as she waved before going inside.

When the service was over, the Queen made an unscheduled detour and walked over to the barricades to talk to a few people.

One woman in the crowd said the found the whole experience overwhelming.

"She looked straight at me in the eyes, and I was looking right back in her eyes. A beautiful woman. I was just so impressed," she said. "The tears were starting to come. Oh my God."

"This is the third time I've seen her," said another woman. "I've always loved her."

Later, she went to the provincial legislature where she accepted flags, personal notes and countless bouquets of flowers as thousands of people gathered to greet her.

The Queen was presented with a couple of gifts from children, and then went inside for the unveiling of a government-commissioned stained glass window designed in honour of her Golden Jubilee.

When she emerged, Premier Gordon Campbell accompanied Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip for a walkabout that continued for close to half an hour.

The Snowbirds aerobatics team roared overhead in formation, as an estimated 16,000 people packed the lawns of the legislature under sunny skies. Some of them had been waiting since 5 a.m. to get close to the barricades.

Campbell said the Golden Jubilee is a time to celebrate the level of affection people in Victoria have for the Queen.

"Your Majesty, much as the world has changed in the last 50 years, one thing has always remained constant the sincere affection between the people of British Columbia and their Queen."

The premier predicted the Queen's presence at the hockey game would inspire the Vancouver Canucks to win this year's Stanley Cup.

She is scheduled to have a private meeting with Prime Minister Jean Chrtien in Vancouver on Monday. The Queen, who made her first stop in Nunavut on Friday, is scheduled to leave for Winnipeg Tuesday on a royal tour that will include appearances in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.