Canadian hockey fans are a special breed.
As a collective, they are more devoted to hockey than anywhere else in the world, easily rivalling the soccer fans of England and Brazil. In every rink where hockey can be found, from the glamour of the Olympics, to the bowels of the small-town house league, Canadian fans can be found short of breath while waving a supportive flag. Or cowbell. Or air horn.
The 2003 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Halifax have introduced a new batch of amazing stories to the folklore that is Canadian hockey heritage. I spent intermission after intermission sorting through various stories and anecdotes that were circulating around the Metro Centre in search of ‘the one.’--the story of a fan going above and beyond the normal to show support for Team Canada. To be here.
By accident, the story I was looking for fell right in my lap. While riding the elevator to the press box one afternoon, I overheard the story of a man who went to grave lengths to come to Halifax to support his national team. I followed the person connected to the story that day, looking for more details and trying to uncover the source of it. As fortune had it, I met up with the person responsible for circulating Joe Blanchard’s story.
I met Joe Blanchard and his wife, Joanne, for drinks one evening after Canada’s 4-1 victory over Germany and got a first-hand account of his story.
“I went to PEI to spend Christmas with my mother,” Blanchard began, “but we got terrible news on Christmas Day that my aunt died. The funeral was on the 28th and my other aunt asked me if I would be a pallbearer. Between the bad news and the traveling, I didn’t get a chance to charge my cell phone so unfortunately my wife had no way to get a hold of me.”
“I was in Halifax,” Joanne interjects, “and my niece told me on Christmas Day that she’d gotten Joe a ticket to the Canada-Czech Republic game on the 28th. I know how much he likes hockey and I knew how bad he’d want to be there.”
From Christmas day until the 28th Joe was still with his mother, and through the frenzy of arranging accommodations and travel to the funeral he neglected to call his family in Halifax. Over those three days Joanne became increasingly concerned that her husband might not call home to find about the ticket, so on the morning of the 28th she took drastic measures.
Joanne turned to the internet and found the obituary for her in-law and promptly phoned the funeral home that was in charge of the service. She made certain to explain to the funeral director that while it was not of life-threatening urgency, it was vital that her husband call home. By this time, the funeral was in progress.
The funeral director jotted a note on one of his business cards: “Joe Blanchard, Call wife immediately regarding hockey tickets.” He handed the note to Joe during the service. Upon seeing the joy in Joe’s face when he heard the news about the ticket, the assistant funeral director volunteered to take Blanchard’s place as pallbearer on the way to the graveyard so that he might get to Halifax to see the game.
Joe received the note in Moncton at 11:30. “On the way back, I had to drop off my mother and my sister in Shubenackadie at my nephew’s, but it was a quick stop. I joked with them the whole way that I was going to have to leave them on the side of the highway,” Joe chuckled. “Luckily, I got to Halifax by 2pm, but then I found out that the game didn’t start until four.”
Mr Blanchard made it to the game that afternoon and was one of the 10,583 capacity crowd that saw the Canadians defeat the Czechs 4-0, but for him the game was a happy conclusion to a sorrow-ridden week. “It’s always hard to lose someone, especially around the holidays, but to have something like this happen really helps take your mind off of it.”
Mr. Blanchard is very grateful to his wife for the efforts she undertook to get in contact with him as well as with his niece for getting the tickets and the funeral director for taking his spot. “He didn’t need to do that for me. It wasn’t his job. He’s a good man, because he saw how much it would mean to me and he helped me out.”
The Blanchards still had the card from Frenette’s funeral home in Moncton with the note still very
legible. When I asked if I could see it, they obliged graciously, and when I asked them if I could forward it
to the people at the Hockey Hall of Fame they seemed ecstatic. Hopefully, the note will one day take its
place in the hall among the historic memorabilia and be yet another testament to Canada’s devotion to