Well, here’s a reason to be grateful for the NHL lockout: about two dozen NHLers will likely play an exhibition game in Whitehorse Nov. 21, the News was told on Thursday.
As part of the First Assist Charity Classic Tour, organizer John Chabot has decided to add Whitehorse to the tour that already includes exhibition games in Ontario and the N.W.T.
But with the prospect of the lockout ending soon, nothing is set in stone.
“It’s the last stop of our northern tour,” said Chabot, a former NHL player and coach. “In regards to the lockout, we’re under the assumption that it’s going to end pretty quick. We’re hoping we’ll get our games in just under the wire.
“We’re just looking at flights, making sure we can get all the guys up there, and making sure we have the right amount of guys to make this a high-end event.”
The tour, which is a fundraiser for Chabot’s First Assist Charity, came together very quickly. With NHL players freed up by the lockout, just over a week ago Chabot had the idea to get these players on the ice for a good cause. Four days later, about two-dozen NHLers played a game in Cornwall, Ontario, on Monday in front 4,800 fans. The tour is next going to stop in Thunder Bay on Monday before heading north to Yellowknife and Inuvik.
A stop in Hay River has been cancelled to make time for the game in Whitehorse.
With growing interest from players, Chabot hopes as many as 30 will participate in the North of 60 part of the tour, including the likes of Ottawa Senators Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Phillips, Chris Neil and Zack Smith, Montreal Habs captain Brian Gionta, his brother Stephen Gionta from the New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguin Tyler Kennedy and Winnipeg Jet Grant Clitsome.
So why the last-minute addition of Whitehorse?
“We would like to include Whitehorse in the tour because of the fact that I’ve been there a number of times and I know how cool a place it is,” said Chabot, in an interview with the News before Thursday’s announcement. “I’d like to have to opportunity to show some of the guys a place in Canada they have never been.
“I don’t know how much longer the lockout is going to be. I feel it’s probably going to end in two-and-a-half, three weeks. So I want to make sure everyone gets a chance to see the players. I know it doesn’t happen very often, that these guys get up there. It doesn’t happen at all that an NHL player goes up there while playing in the NHL.”
The Whitehorse Minor Hockey Association is organizing the game in partnership with Chabot and First Assist.
“This is coming together in a rush,” said association president Carl Burgess. “Air North has stepped up to help us … Sponsors are welcome to give us a call.
“This is a massive event. When you have that talent in town and an opportunity to see it, it generates lots of excitement. This is a fantastic opportunity … I’m stunned.
“We’re looking forward to it as a fundraiser and an opportunity to give back to local charities as well. We’re targeting the food bank.”
More details, including how to get tickets, will be released next week. The game will “very likely” take place at Takhini Arena, said Burgess.
Founded by Chabot in 2001, First Assist Charity uses hockey to connect with at-risk aboriginal youth in the North, promoting the importance of education.
More information can be found by searching “First Assist Charity” on Facebook or by following its Twitter feed.
Contact Tom Patrick at