While he enjoys a number of sports, hockey has a special place in the heart of the Honourable Paul DeVillers, Canada's Secretary of State for Amateur Sport, and Deputy Leader of the Canadian Government.
A two-time captain of the University of Ottawa GeeGees in the late 1960s, and still playing the sport at age 57, DeVillers was in Sault Ste. Marie Monday to take part in the opening ceremonies of the Air Canada Cup, the Canadian midget hockey championships, at Memorial Gardens.
"My dream growing up was always to play in the NHL," said DeVillers, who helped welcome fans to the championships, before presiding over the ceremonial face off. "I love the speed and team play in hockey. With the players as a unit, and with the puck moving, it's like ballet."
Though other commitments had DeVillers scheduled to leave the Sault this morning, the Penetanguishene native said he'd "stay here the entire week, if I had a choice."
Named to the government position by Prime Minister Jean Chretien 15 months ago, DeVillers still enjoys playing hockey with a team of parliamentarians.
Later this month, the Simcoe North M.P. will compete in a tournament against Ottawa and area police,
firefighters, emergency personnel and guards at the House of Commons.
"Hockey really was my first love," he said.
And DeVillers, who was invited to the Air Canada Cup by his friend, Sault M.P. Carmen Provenzano, who joined him for the opening ceremonies, didn't hesitate when asked about the state of his favourite sport in this country.
"Canadian hockey is in good shape. We're very competitive," said DeVillers. "You can see the results at the last Olympics when we took gold medals in both men's and women's competition. We won a silver medal at the World Junior Championships and our under-18s are in the finals this week."
Team Canada, with Soo Greyhounds' centre Jeff Carter in the lineup, meets Slovakia for the gold medal today, at the World Under-18 Hockey Championships in Yaroslavl, Russia.
An avid golfer and ski enthusiast, who's also completed 14 marathons and still runs four times per week, DeVillers credited the Canadian Hockey Association (CHA) for its work with young players.