Hockey Day magic

Tim Horton's Hockey Day in Canada is set for Jan. 30 from Stratford, Ont., and it is shaping up to be a memorable event.

Care to guess how many hockey games are played in Canada over the course of a weekend, let alone a season?

Trouble is, you do not know where and how to start.

Consider the lines of the tune Hockey Song by the Canadian rock group Jughead:

"Well, I play Air hockey, Ball hockey, Barn Hockey, Bubble Hockey, Field hockey, Floor hockey, Ice hockey, Kitchen hockey, Road hockey, Roller hockey, Table hockey, Twist  hockey. And I play hockey, hockey, hockey, hockey, hockey, hockey, hockey, hockey, hockey, hockey, hockey, hockey, hockey, hockey, hockey all the time!"

Hockey takes all shapes and forms in Canada. It is our national theatre.

And this, in a roundabout way, brings us to the CBC's 10th annual salute to Canada's national obsession.

The 10th annual Tim Hortons Hockey Day in Canada on CBC is set for Jan. 30 from Stratford, Ont., and it is shaping up to be a memorable event.

Hockey Day In Canada celebrates Canada's fascination with and passion for hockey, and the picturesque southwestern Ontario community, known worldwide for its Stratford Shakespeare Festival, will prove the ideal venue to spotlight sports theatre at its finest.

Holy Grail in attendance

The festivities begin Jan. 26, and the events include a luncheon with NHL stars, a Randy Bachman concert, hockey clinics, school visits by NHL stars, a hockey symposium, and a chance to visit with the Holy Grail itself, the Stanley Cup.

Don Cherry and Ron MacLean will be on hand for the marathon Hockey Day in Canada telecast on Saturday.

The popular Coach's Corner segment will be broadcast live from the Allman Arena during the first intermission of the game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

The day features a tripleheader of all-Canadian matchups on Hockey Night in Canada, with Vancouver clashing with the Leafs in Toronto at 7 p.m. ET, and Edmonton visiting Alberta rival Calgary at 10 p.m. ET.

Peter Mansbridge, host of CBC's The National, is the honorary chairman of Hockey Day in Canada and Tim Taylor, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with Detroit (1997) and Tampa Bay (2004), is co-chair of Stratford's Hockey Day organizing committee.

While Stratford is world-renowned for its festival, the city of 30,000 nestled in the countryside has a rich hockey history.

Stratford's hockey roots extend back to the late Howie Morenz, nicknamed the "Stratford Streak." Ed Olczyk came north from his home in the United States to hone his skills on the road to an NHL career.

Both Rob Blake of the San Jose Sharks and Chris Pronger of the Philadelphia Flyers suited up for the junior B Stratford Cullitons, while Tim Taylor played minor hockey in his hometown en route to two Stanley Cup rings.

10 years of Hockey Day

Hockey Day in Canada was first broadcast in 2000 and since then, the CBC has criss-crossed the country, taking the show to blue-collar places like Red Deer, Alta., Stephenville, N.L., Iqualuit, Nunavut, Winkler, Man., and Campbellton, N.B.

It has become a tradition with Canadians from coast to coast to coast, and it has become common for Canadians to pay tribute to the game they hold close to their heart.

After all, there are so many arenas in Canada that officials can't even count them all.

"This has become a real highlight for every community that hosts it. It has become a real way to celebrate the game across the country," says Joel Darling, who is the director of production for CBC Sports. "What is interesting is how people across the country do their own thing around Hockey Day, on their backyard rinks or whatever.

"It really has grown into a very big day for people across the country."

Hockey Day in Canada is much more than a day-long celebration of Canada's coolest game on ice.

One thing Hockey Day does is allow people who drink the working man's champagne to get up close to MacLean and Cherry, two celebrities who they have invited into their living rooms for decades through Hockey Night in Canada.

The celebrations also include stars like Wendel Clark and Mark Napier reaching out to boys and girls playing minor hockey, giving kids the chance to get tips from the pros.

Hockey Day spontaneity

Darling recalled being in a watering hole in Stephenville after the 2006 show when a man wandered up to Clark and whispered something into his ear.

"I asked Wendel what he said and he said his daughter was working in a bar down the street and he wanted to know if Wendel could come down and get a picture with her," says Darling. "So Wendel put his jacket on and off he went into the night and he came back about a half-hour later."

It didn't bother Clark for a heartbeat that he had spent hours doing clinics in the town, and had signed countless autographs.

These acts of spontaneity are everywhere when it comes to Hockey Day in Canada.

The students at the Campbellton Middle School had a contest last February where every student was asked to design a new tie for Don Cherry and each class was asked to design a new jacket. Their efforts were on display in the gym.

Cherry got wind of their efforts and took it on himself to surprise the students during an assembly. His appearance made for a great Hockey Day in Canada memory for the students and staff at the school.

In the flesh 

The day after Cherry gave the kids a thrill, his sidekick, MacLean, found himself snow-shoeing on a wind-swept river.

When news spread through the tiny community of Upsalquitch that MacLean was filming a segment for Hockey Day in Canada on the river, the locals gathered on an old railway bridge in freezing temperatures to watch a celebrity in their midst.

MacLean waved to the dozen or so people, who smiled and waved back.

The moment wasn't lost on MacLean for a minute. He understands Hockey Day is a chance for Canadians to celebrate who they are and the sport they love.

"That is the whole thing that makes it shine, the rink rat element. It is totally about the people," said MacLean.

"All Canadians are core rink rats. They all know what it was like to fire that last puck into the snow bank. They have a great humble disposition that makes them great. The people are enthusiastic because of their love for the game."

And it is the love for hockey that unites Canada and makes Hockey Day in Canada a great celebration.

"That is the story of Hockey Day," says Darling. "It is giving back to the community in some way."