We had to wait 106 years, but it was worth it.
The home team crowd pounded the Takhini Arena bleachers into kindling on Wednesday night when the Dawson City Nuggets’ Kevin Anderson popped the puck into Ottawa’s net at 13:14 of the third period. There was pure ecstasy on Anderson’s face as he slid along the ice celebrating the end to a century-long scoring drought. After all, the last Nugget to score on Ottawa was Hec Smith, who netted both Yukon goals in that legendary 23-2 drubbing during the Stanley Cup challenge in 1905.
But this wasn’t just one hockey player’s triumph, as Anderson made clear earlier that day at the MacBride Museum. He and fellow Nugget Pat Hogan told a room full of enraptured Yukon kids the story of their 15-year-long journey with the Dawson City Nuggets. Their 1997 recreation of the 1905 challenge was a community effort, involving hundreds of Yukoners from the players to the dozens of gold miners who poured their nuggets into the prize pot.
Our whole town is equally behind this year’s Hockey Day in Canada. At every venue, I run into people I haven’t seen in months. Folks who had been holed up, like me, for the winter. The opening of the MacBride’s new Yukon hockey exhibit (a must-see if you haven’t been) was the most festive curatorial debut I’ve ever attended.
The mood is infectious. The high hockey muckamucks from Outside – big names like CBC’s Ron MacLean and the NHL’s Trevor Linden – seem to have picked up the bug too.
They seem to be having a great time, as evidenced by last night’s Stolen from a Hockey Card show at the Yukon Arts Centre (and the after-party at the Gold Rush tavern). Stolen was put on by Dave Bidini, who has emerged as the high priest of our national hockey religion.
Bidini took the audience on an emotional dogsled ride, guided by the familiar tones of Yukon radio host Dave White. We ranged from just enjoying the music, to moments of hilarity, to some deep thoughts about how connected our lives are to the great game. This came through most clearly in the short film featuring Yukoner Peter Grundmanis and some fantastic footage from his days as a boy playing hockey in Elsa in the 1970s.
It is amazing how images of old-time hockey bring back a flood of memories. The exact same thing happened at the MacBride opening, where there were smiles all around, but even the toughest grinders misted up a bit looking at photos of their dad in his Commercial league uniform or the old Igloo Eskimos pee-wee team from the 1970s.
Another highlight of Bidini’s show was Kim Barlow and her new song about goalie Jaroslav Halak and the Whitehorse Women’s Hockey League (you’ll have to listen yourself to make the connection). As wonderful as it is to see the big names from down South, the crowd was obviously thrilled to see a local girl do us proud on the national stage.
Meanwhile, for the younger crowd, Hockey Day in Canada has already been a great event. How often does your Riverdale shinny game get filmed by a CBC helicopter? Or does Wendel Clark come to the arena when it’s the Yukon elementary school hockey tournament?
On Thursday, 14 elementary teams battled it out for the prized banner to put up in their gym. This too was a great event. Organizers like local principal Ted Hupe created a special moment, one of those times that reminds kids why school is such a great place to be. Each school’s team enjoyed a special esprit de corps, but sportsmanship was the theme throughout. When needed, teams swapped players and goalies switched ends to make sure each game stayed fun.
Whitehorse Elementary took the honours in the end, after almost being stymied by some spectacular goal tending in the game against Selkirk and some spirited play by the Elijah Smith team.
Hockey Day in Canada is turning into another of those grand community events, where the Yukon rises to the occasion. Just like the Canada Games a couple of years ago.
But it’s not over yet. If you’ve been sitting at home missing all the fun, you’ve still got time. There’s another Bidini show tonight and a full day of events on Saturday.
So grab your skates. If something happens only every 106 years, you don’t want to miss it.
Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of Game on Yukon: The Mystery of the Dawson City Nuggets and the 1905 Stanley Cup and other historical adventure novels for young readers.