Whenever a member of the Vancouver Canucks comes to town it gets the fans talking, but rarely does the NHL team drive up the highway to Whistler to actually play some hockey.
That all changed this past week with the Canucks selecting Whistler as the venue for their 2014 training camp. From Friday (Sept. 19) until Monday (Sept. 22) Meadow Park was home to on-ice practice sessions with fans coming out to watch prospective draft picks prove themselves for team selection. Sunday was the most popular day for fans with the intra-squad scrimmage offering an up close and personal opportunity to watch their favourite hockey team.
“Just to see the Canucks in Whistler,” said Nate McIntyre, citing his reason for attending Meadow Park on Sunday. “It’s been a few years since they’ve been here. We go down to games a lot, but to see them come here, that’s pretty cool. Most of these (players) won’t be on the team, but it’s still good hockey.”
Some of the biggest fans in town are players for the local minor hockey team, the Whistler Winterhawks. Not only did the kids get to see their favourite players on the ice and get autographs, but there was also a special practice session with Canucks players and 40 lucky kids selected through a random draw. The Canucks coaching staff worked with the Winterhawks coaches to set up four different drill stations for the kids to rotate through, with each station manned by a Canucks player giving feedback.
An autograph session followed with the 40 kids all getting their merchandise signed by their favourite players.
“(The Canucks) sat on the bench for them and signed everything,” said Steve Legge, President of the Whistler Minor Hockey League. “Every single piece was signed. It was a pretty special moment for those 40 kids, especially because I think (their) heroes like Kevin Bieksa or Alex Burrows were both there. It was all really professional, but at the same time really cheerful. The kids and parents were very appreciative of it all. It’s an amazing opportunity.”
The crowded stands on Sunday were full of families from Whistler, Pemberton, Mt. Currie and D’Arcy, with Winterhawks able to sell reels of fundraising tickets in the foyer of the Meadow Park Sports Centre. Minor hockey league sponsor Scotiabank also stepped up to match the amount of funds raised in a 50/50 draw.
While the early season training camp was in full swing, the Canucks also had some free time to spend in Whistler over the weekend. The Sedin brothers and Bieksa were spotted at the Whistler Farmers’ Market on Sunday before a round of golf at the Fairmont Chateau. Legge sees the Canucks presence at Meadow Park and in Whistler as a big motivator for hockey fans eager for the season to get started.
“It’s just nice (for them) to be in your own backyard for a change,” said Legge. “It’s a real treat, yes. Does it motivate (the kids) more? Always. Where else can you go to see them this close? This is your chance to be right there with them.”