There was drama, comedy, action, a nod to the classics and no shortage of technology, as Hockey Day in Canada provided more than a few thrills on Saturday. The CBC working to the extreme that mandate of bringing Canadians together, provided over fourteen hours of hockey and hockey themed features to celebrate our national obsessions.
As a scene setter and opening act we were front row cenre at the main stage of Stratford, treated to the vision of King Don and his consort and our narrator of the day Ron MacLean, Cherry regal in his robes as he looked out on the Dominion and its salute to the game.
Through the hours to follow vignettes and features would flow and as would be expected tugged at the heart strings, the usual flavour of fighting the odds of survival, struggling for comebacks and of community togetherness that would no doubt leave even the fiercest cynic reaching for a third box of Kleenex.
There were quite a few highlights as we crossed the country, but two did seem to shine brighter than most, Dick Irivn proved once again that even though he's long been out of the spotlight from his once weekly perch on Saturday night, that he can still weave a magical story, his tribute to the Morenz legacy one of the highlights of the day's information avalanche.
Likewise, Elliot Friedman's backgrounder on British Columbia's iconic Ernie Punch McLean, was a fascinating piece as he provided the nation with a tale that surely could have come out of a Robert Service poem. Beyond McLean's legendary coaching prowess, there were the tales of his wilderness adventures and near death experiences, stories which would seem as though from fanciful flights of fiction, if not documented through the years.
From various locations across the nation we saw the diaspora of hockey in this land, from the everyday fan, through the organizers and officials, on to the smallest of Timbit players and the rising stars of Junior B as well as those that probably know this may be their last stop in hockey, all celebrated the importance of the game on their daily lives, a sport and an experience that captures all their emotion and attention from September through to the spring.
As though on cue from the main stage just off the Avon river, when the day's attentions turned to the ice of an NHL arena, the three games provided for their own dramatic moments, a perfect punctuation point to each segment of the day's progress.
In Ottawa a hard fought match, gets settled in overtime, an iconic Canadian franchise and the team that summons on the past as much as the future, takes on an enigmatic squad that once seemed destined for Stanley Cup dominance and now tries to regain that dream and reward its long suffering fans.
An opening act which required an encore, with Mike Fisher taking the lead role in the taming of the Rouge, blanc et bleu. One of the hardest workers on any NHL rink, it was Fisher's marker with time winding down in the extra frame that sent Ottawa on into the team's history books, recording their 9th consecutive victory, a sudden reversal of fortunes that may bring back many of the bandwagon crowd that were ready to abandon them less than a month ago.
Centre stage in Toronto provided a variety of themes for the night, redemption for a discarded former Leaf (ironically still on the Leafs payroll) as Andrew Raycroft, subbed in for a sub par Roberto Luongo, shut down a surprisingly prolific Leaf attack after the first period. By games end Raycroft would be revelling in his fortune, with more than a few waves to those in the wings that booed him out of town when he wore the blue and white.
Alexandre Burrows took his share of the spotlight, the object of much discussion and observation from Hockey Night in Canada's Ron MacLean but a week ago, showed that he's full value for his statistics with a remarkable night. He started off a five goal Canuck's comeback and played as solid a two way game as any coach could ever hope to find. For good measure and good theater, he even ended up in between periods on Hockey Night in Canada, suggesting that the score at the end of period one was not going to be the night's final tally, and as would be seen as the night progressed he certainly seems to know his team and their capabilities.
Hockey Day in Canada took on a decidedly Nordic twist in Toronto, as the Sedins, showcased their talents as though running a clinic, a remarkable display of game control, passion and scoring that left their hosts reeling and their audience dumbfounded. With each shift on the ice before their former boss Brian Burke, you sense he could only wonder what cruel fates conspired against him. Burke while no doubt concerned about his current teams collapse and flaws, could find some room to marvel at those he brought to North America. In some back compartment of his brain he surely was satisfied that the twins, long ago tagged as a soon to be force in the NHL, have clearly arrived and proven his instincts correct.
Combined with the energetic Burrows, the Canuck's top line is quickly becoming one of the most impressive offensive displays the league has seen in a long, long time. Burke, his coach Ron Wilson, their players and fans could only watch in awe as the Canucks led by their Swedish component, methodically erased a three goal deficit, turned a game around 180 degrees and left their mark at ground zero of Canada's self obsessed centre of the universe.
The final act of the night would need no preamble, the Battle of Alberta, a blood feud that rarely disappoints and even in a game where the Oilers were left to wander the wilds of the Saddledome as though lost in a blizzard, the emotion of that setting provided more than enough drama to cover up a rather anemic Edmonton attack. Both teams have been woeful in recent weeks, tumbling down the standings with just a slight whiff of panic in the air in their respective cities, though after Saturday we suspect that the panic meter runs a little higher in Edmonton.
At night's end the Flames featuring a re-energized captain in Jerome Iginla would have dominated their northern cousins in all facets of the game, gaining the kind of victory that can turn around a season. On the other bench, Edmonton provided another night of mistakes, the kind of mental miscues and lapses of judgement that will continue to eat away at a team that still seems to be more than a few players away from ever thinking of a playoff berth, let alone a playoff run.
The pain of the learning curve etched on the face of Pat Quinn, who can only shake his head at times at the fragility of his team, where one miscue cascades into another and before anyone has a chance to look at the scoreboard the game is seemingly out of reach.
The final game did not provide the storybook kind of finish to cap a perfect day of hockey, but it too had it's purpose, defining the nature of a game that is built on emotion, but requires skill, team work and the ability to claw back from the abyss. Calgary seems to have stepped back from the downward spiral, the Oilers moved a step further into the tempest.
Six teams, comprised of Canadians, Americans, Swedes, Finns, Russians and many other collections of the United Nations, all merged into a celebration of a national game, each one as important to the day as though they had just stepped out on the Avon River, the Rideau Canal or a frozen slough on the prairies for the first time.
It was a day featuring a triple header of Canadianna, measured out with tales and characters from a land that follows the sport as though a religion or noble cause. Fourteen hours plus, to focus on the good that is still in the game well beyond the bright glare of the large arenas and the weight of the huge salaries and commercial deals.
A brief reminder that the game still resonates in much simpler forms, in far reaching places that far too often are not given their due for what they have given and what they bring to the sport.
Many of the features from Hockey Day in Canada can be found on the CBC's Hockey Day in Canada website, a good opportunity to catch up on some of those that may have passed you by today.