For one special day next February, Whitehorse will be at the centre of the hockey universe.
Last week, the CBC announced Yukon’s capital will host the network’s annual Hockey Day in Canada, a special segment of its hugely popular Hockey Night in Canada program that will include games featuring all six of Canada’s NHL teams over a 13.5 hour broadcast and will include footage of related events in Whitehorse.
“We try to visit various parts of the country each year and it has been a while since we had gone to the North,” said Mike Dodson, executive producer of Hockey Night in Canada in an interview with the News. “So we looked at a few communities and decided, after meeting with the mayor, some council and seeing the facilities, Whitehorse would be a good fit.”
Hoping to feature another northern community as it did in 2003 when Iqaluit, Nunavut, hosted the event, the final decision came down between Whitehorse and Yellowknife, NWT.
“I think it all came down to how the cities represented themselves – what their vision of Hockey Day in Canada was,” said Whitehorse councillor Ranj Pillai, who made a trip to Stratford, Ontario, in January to vie for Whitehorse’s participation. “We have an amazing capacity within our volunteer community. That gives CBC a lot of confidence with working with Whitehorse over the next year.
“And you can’t get away from this is a beautiful city to live in. That plays a role – it’s television, so they want to have nice shots. That’s something we can definitely provide.
“They touched on the Canada Games Centre, they were definitely impressed by that.”
Still in the earliest stages of planning, local groups overseeing the event on Whitehorse’s end, such as the city and Sport Yukon, still need to form a committee to make the important decisions. However, Dodson was able to share some common features of Hockey Day in hosting communities.
“Generally each year we bring a number of Hockey Night in Canada commentators,” said Dodson, listing Ron MacLean and hockey icon Don Cherry. “While we are there, leading up to the Saturday, we try to work with the city to put together a number of events.
“Generally we run a number of clinics and bring hockey alumni to conduct those clinics. There’s usually some form of banquet that the Stanley Cup shows up at.
“I’m sure there’ll be a full week of events.”
Contrary to rumours swirling after the release of the city’s success in securing hosting privileges, Whitehorse did not win CBC’s Hockey Town in Canada. That honour was given to Pembroke, Ontario, which will receive $100,000 for renovations to a rink and will host a NHL exhibition game as part of their prize.
Nonetheless, Pillai feels the spotlight put on Whitehorse for much of the next hockey season will give the city exceptional exposure.
“We may not receive $100,000, but the amount of exposure the Yukon will get over the next year is quite impressive,” said Pillai. “Every Saturday night that Hockey Night in Canada is on from the start of the season until February, they will be highlighting the fact that Whitehorse is hosting Hockey Day in Canada.”
Whitehorse’s campaign to host the event began in January when Pillai traveled to Stratford, last year’s host city, to vie for the honour. Pillai’s trip east was followed by a visit to Whitehorse by both Dodson and Hockey Night in Canada’s director of production Joel Darling.
“It gave me a chance to see how the event is executed and an opportunity to meet CBC and pitch the idea of Whitehorse hosting next year’s event,” said Pillai. “We came back and had CBC fly to Whitehorse and Yellowknife, the two potential cities for 2011.
“While they were here a core of people from the city of Whitehorse and Sport Yukon, who was also one of the lead organizations on this bid, Yukon Hockey Association, Yukon Convention Bureau, representatives of Northwestel – that whole group did a presentation to CBC.”
No stranger to hosing big events, Whitehorse hosted the Canada Summer Games in 2007 and the ISF Junior Men’s World Fastpitch Championship in 2008. In 2012, it will host its sixth Arctic Winter Games and its first ISF XIII Women’s World Fastpitch Championship the same year.
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