Fort Frances minor hockey had its chance to shine under the national spotlight Saturday. And while that spotlight barely lasted a minute, parents and coaches alike gave the afternoon a hearty thumbs up.
“It’s a totally worthwhile event for the community,” said hockey parent Rick Chambers. “The kids will get more out of this experience then we ever will.”
“It was really for the kids,” agreed fellow parent Lori Green. “I think it meant a lot for them to play in that setting,”
The jamboree, organized by the Fort Frances Minor Hockey Association as part of CBC’s third-annual “Hockey Day in Canada” broadcast, featured 12 18-minute pickup games involving some two dozen teams from Fort Frances and Emo.
CBC cameras were on hand to record bits of the games, which were shown nationally before commercial breaks and between segments.
“I think it was a little different for my players,” said Larry Beck, who coached the West End Motors Tom Thumb team earlier in the day. “There were a few more people in the crowd compared to what they’re used to.
“But I think the kids were pretty excited and the effort was a little stronger,” he added. “It didn’t take much to motivate the kids. They were ready to roll.”
It all got underway earlier Saturday with an opening ceremony featuring all of the town’s minor hockey squads as well as the Borderland Thunder and Muskie girls’ team (four Atom teams and the Muskie boys were competing at out-of-town tournaments).
Also taking part in the ceremony were surviving members of the 1952 Allan Cup-winning Fort Frances Canadians, who were greeted by a rousing standing ovation from the close to 600 residents on hand.
“There is such a tradition of hockey in this town and a big thanks should go out to Fort Frances minor hockey,” Mayor Glenn Witherspoon said minutes before the first game began.
CBC reporter Allen Abel hosted a short live interview with former Fort Frances Canadians captain Sambo Fedoruk. Program host Ron MacLean, in Windsor, N.S., then mentioned several things the town is known for nationally, including the longtime success of the Muskie hockey program and former NHL’ers Dave and Mike Allison.
Abel, who on behalf of the CBC accepted a plaque from the FFMHA to commemorate the event, enjoyed the atmosphere of the day.
“Of what we saw in the other rinks [across the country], it seemed it was just another day out there,” he said. “But here, they really stepped it up a notch.
“The ceremony was beautiful as is this whole facility. It’s a beautiful rink for a town this size.”
But there was some displeasure over the amount of air time the town actually received. Technical problems also prevented seven-year-old Cole Quesnel from asking a question on a live instalment of Don Cherry’s “Coaches’ Corner” (he was planning to ask whether Mario Lemieux would be ready to play in the Olympics next month).
“It was disappointing we couldn’t get a little more exposure. [The CBC] had an excellent opportunity to do that,” said Sunset Country Ford Mustang ‘AA’ Atoms coach Mark McCaig.
“But I think something like this can help raise the esteem of the program. We have a lot of things to be proud of,” he added.
Upon the announcement of Fort Frances’ participation in this year’s “Hockey Day in Canada” broadcast back in October, there was talk of doing a feature report on the ’52 Canadians but it didn’t make the final list of stories.
“There are always future possibilities for stories,” said Abel.
Meanwhile, McCaig said the opening ceremony was an eye-opener as he didn’t realize how many kids were involved in local minor hockey until they were all on the ice at once.
“The amount of kids we have who are involved in minor hockey is very impressive,” he noted.
Beck added recent on-ice success, thanks to the new Ice for Kids Arena providing extra ice time, showed Fort Frances deserved a spot among the other towns visited by the CBC.
“You figure the bigger cities get a lot of exposure but if you look at our rep teams, they’re playing them well,” he noted. “With a second ice surface, our kids are doing so much better and we can compete with the bigger centres.
“It’s really nice to see.”
It was a long road to “Hockey Day in Canada.” A nation-wide strike by CBC technicians threatened the broadcast but a tentative deal was ratified just a week before the show.
The FFMHA, which had begun working on the jamboree in November, put the finishing touches on it when the broadcast was a definite go.
“It’s all pretty impressive considering [FFMHA] only had a week to put it together,” said Chambers.