NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR WELCOMES THE NATION
As far as birthday presents go, this one sure beats new socks and lottery ticket stuffed in a card.
In fact, Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador figures it hit the jackpot thanks to Hockey Canada and its generous gift.
As part of the celebrations marking 75 years since Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador (then known as the Newfoundland Amateur Hockey Association) joined what was then known as the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, Hockey Canada decided to stage a trio of national and international events in the province this season – the National Junior Team summer evaluation camp, the women’s 4 Nations Cup and the 2011 TELUS Cup, Canada’s National Midget Championship.
So, for a week in early August, local hockey fans had the opportunity to watch Canada’s best juniors, including Braydon Schenn, Ryan Johansen and Erik Gudbranson hit the Mile One Centre ice.
“You’re not really thinking about hockey in the summer,” said St. John’s Peewee hockey player John Simms, “but for that week, I think I was at the rink every day watching them practice and play.
“You kind of see yourself there someday, with any luck.”
Months later, the world’s top women’s players took to the ice at Mile One for the 4 Nations Cup that ended in a thriller, with Canada beating the U.S. on an overtime goal by Rebecca Johnston before a full house of just over 6,000 fans.
Johnston’s grandfather, ironically enough, is a Newfoundland native.
And now fans are braced for the TELUS Cup, featuring the best Midget hockey teams in the country.
“I didn’t think I’d live long enough,” said HNL president Gerry Evans, “to see Newfoundland and Labrador stage three big Hockey Canada events like these in one season.”
The events brought with them a bit of an economic jolt to St. John’s. But more importantly, said Jack Lee, they allowed the youngsters of Newfoundland and Labrador an opportunity to witness some of the best hockey talent in Canada, up close and personal.
“Like any hockey program across Canada,” said Lee, HNL’s Minor Council chairman, “we’re seeing a healthy increase in the number of young women playing the game, so the 4 Nations Cup offered young girls a great chance to see the Hayley Wickenheisers of the world.
“The kids see these women practice and play and active in the community for a week and they figure that, ‘Well, with some hard work, maybe I can get to that level eventually.’”
Lee notes Newfoundland and Labrador has a healthy five-team provincial Midget league (St. John’s Privateers, St. John’s Maple Leafs, Tri-Pen Frost, Central IcePak, Western Kings and Northern Huskies), and the TELUS Cup, hosted by the Privateers, should give the Midget level a boost in the province.
“I know these kids on the Privateers have been working very hard all winter,” Lee said. “They will represent Newfoundland and Labrador with honour and pride.”