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Hockey weekend in Penticton a magical affair

The BCHL brought its 60th anniversary celebration to Penticton this weekend, and if our experience is any indication -- and we think it is -- it'll be the first of many such events.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Skills Competition

The festivities kicked off Friday evening at the South Okanagan Events Centre with the first-ever BCHL Top Prospects Game -- a matchup between the league's top NHL draft-eligible players that emphasized slick passing and fancy moves over grit and fierce physicality.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Top Prospects Game

Ultimately, the "East" team, bolstered by a half-dozen Vees, including the current top three in the league point parade (Bradly Nadeau, Josh Nadeau, Aydar Suniev), walked away with a 6-2 victory.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Top Prospects Game

It was a decent enough game for a pseudo all-star affair where nothing serious was on the line.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Top Prospects Game

There was lots of pageantry at the start, spurts of awesomeness throughout and a crowd that looked to be about half that of a regular season Vees game -- not bad for what amounted to a mid-season exhibition contest.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Top Prospects Game

As a bonus, both Nadeau (Josh) and Suniev potted goals.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Top Prospects Game

But it was Saturday, when virtually all the action switched to Penticton's new outdoor rink adjacent to city hall, where the event truly came to life.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Skills Competition

Was it the outdoor setting? The proximity to popular eateries? The day-long schedule of activities? The presence of some of the best junior players in the region and all-time hockey luminaries like Scott Niedermeyer? An intimate setup that puts spectators mere feet from players?

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Alumni Game

Likely some of all of the above.

It began early in the day -- 8:30 am to be exact -- when scores of little girls (and their siblings and friends and parents) showed up for what was billed as a "Girls Hockey Jamboree."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Girls Hockey Jamboree

It was, in a word, wild.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Girls Hockey Jamboree

For the vast majority of two straight hours, the outdoor rink hosted shinny at its most raw. Swarm after swarm of young, female players -- some barely old enough for elementary school -- took to the ice to try their best and simply have a blast.

Watching over the proceedings was a group of young women from the Okanagan Hockey Academy who mightily impressed with their level of interaction and encouragement. They weren’t there merely to kill time.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Girls Hockey Jamboree

"I think this is beautiful," said Seattle-born but Vancouver-raised Kismet Dogan of the early morning sessions. "It's a great way to let the younger girls come out and just have fun. It's great just being here and cheering them on."

Dogan, 16 years old, attends Penticton Secondary and learns how to be a better hockey player at the Academy. Her goal is the NCAA and hopefully pro beyond that.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Girls Hockey Jamboree

And she was psyched not only about the day, but about the new rink too.

"In Vancouver, it’s really rainy," she said. "We don't have any ODRs (outdoor rinks) there. It's beautiful to be in the Okanagan and play on an outdoor rink. I've never had that privilege."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Girls Hockey Jamboree

One of Dogan's students was six-year-old Malia Cox of Summerland, who sat back on the bench after her two games as dad Dave removed her skates.

"It was really good," said the Summerland Jets player of her hockey-centric morning, adding that it was "cold" and that the outdoor rink was "bumpy on the sides."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Malia and Dave Cox

Malia scored four goals in her pair of games and said she'd love to play on the rink again in the future.

"They were really having fun out there," said dad Dave. "I love that Penticton has this rink. It’s good to see it's getting this much use."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Girls Hockey Jamboree

Her father did, however, agree with his daughter about those temperatures. Saturday was the coldest day in the past week, and those who sat inactive on the sidelines felt it most.

Luckily, there were warm-up tents with propane heaters.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Girls Hockey Jamboree

There were also folks like Penticton residents Tim and Emily Hogg, who were on site watching their daughter play in the jamboree. It didn’t take them long to figure they weren't the only ones feeling the cold.

So Emily suggested Tim make a run to the store for hand warmers. And he did just that, generously returning with enough for everyone in sight, including this reporter.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Girls Hockey Jamboree

By 1 pm the little girls had mostly gone home, replaced by a dozen or so of the best BCHL players around. The music was pumping and the portable bleachers were filling up. It was time for the Skills Competition.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Skills Competition

Over the course of the next hour, players would battle each other for honours like hardest shot, most accurate shot, best puck control, and more.

And that was precisely where the new rink really began paying dividends. Simply, watching players of this caliber is better when you're mere meters from them. You'd never get that sense of intimacy at the SOEC or any traditional arena.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Vees star Josh Nadeau in the Skills Competition

In the end, Bradly Nadeau took the hardest shot title and bro Josh grabbed most accurate, leaving the hometown crowd wondering if there's anything these two hockey wizards can’t do.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Skills Competition

Taking in the Skills Competition were various NHL alumni, showing up early for their 2 pm "Alumni & Friends Game."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> 3 on 3 Game

One of those alumni was ex-Vancouver Canuck and all-'round nice guy Brendan Morrison -- a dude who accumulated 601 points in his NHL career and was one-third of the feared "West Coast Express" line of the mid-2000s.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Brendan Morrison

Morrison came to Penticton specifically for the event and was thrilled he did.

"I love coming here," he said. "This is where my wife's from. I met her when I played here that one year I was here, with the Penticton Panthers. I think my time in Penticton really jump-started my career."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Skills Competition

Morrison called the new rink and new BCHL event "awesome," adding, "It's a great experience for the kids playing in the BCHL and it's fun for us old guys to come back and re-connect with one another and tell old stories."

Outdoor rinks are still very new for Morrison, who grew up in the lower mainland where rain and mild temperatures rule the winter.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Skills Competition

"I remember two times in my entire childhood skating outdoors," he said. "Como Lake was one. Another was a slough in Pitt Meadows where I grew up. It was frozen enough, but I will say at Como Lake, if you got too close to the edge, well, let's just say we lost a couple of pucks down there."

We asked Morrison if he had any advice for his old NHL team, in the midst of yet another slump and Sunday relieving accomplished head coach Bruce Boudreau of this duties.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Skills Competition

"I think they really need to figure out which direction they're going and stay the course," he replied. "It seems like they want to do one thing, then it changes the next year. There's no real direction."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Skills Competition

The Alumni & Friends Game was, as expected, filled with levity. We listened in as Geoff Courtnall regaled guys like Neidermeyer and Valk, on the bench, with a story that had everyone in stitches. It wasn't an isolated incident.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Courtnall keeps 'em in stiches on the bench

Standing nearby was Chris Hebb, now the BCHL commissioner but at one time an early stalwart with the groundbreaking Vancouver-based nightly sports show Sports Page, who said the event was "better than I could have hoped."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Scott Neidermayer and beard

"You worry your vision doesn't meet expectations, but to see all the sponsors and guys like Scott Neidermayer and Brendan Morrison out here, it's been great."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Alumni Game

Hebb believes the first time event will become annual. And he'd love to see it back in Penticton one day.

"I do think being outdoors is special," he said. "I think that's been proven in the NHL and in other leagues.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Alumni Game

"And this is such a great venue, and we have the support of the City. Mayor and council really got behind it. This is a hockey town."

As the old-timers played, the current BCHL all-stars watched or whiled away the time chatting. We met two of them, Jackson Krill of the Merritt Centennials and Ethan Bono of Alberni Valley, standing in full uniforms minus skates at an adjacent food truck.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Jackson Krill, Ethan Bono and a food truck

It struck us how interesting it was to see two high-grade hockey players standing in their unis at a food truck just off Main Street, minutes before their game was about to start.

And just then the afternoon's snow started falling. The scene couldn't get any more amazing.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> 3 on 3 Game

"They did such a good job with the outdoorr ink and the food facilities," said Krill. "It's a really cool experience."

"And the snow falling down just adds to it," said Bono. "Playing outside brings back memories. It's awesome."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> 3 on 3 Game

Bono called it an "honour" to be selected for the team, and Krill talked about how great it was to meet the alumni and watch them play up close.

"It's just been a really good time," he said.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> 3 on 3 Game

As the BCHL kids finally took to the ice for the main event, a 3-on-3 all-star tourney made up of three mini games, we chatted with chief rink financier, Penticton Vees owner and BCHL Board of Governors chairman Graham Fraser.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Graham Fraser

"This is the fourth one we've built," he said. "Grimsby, Lake Placid and Barrie, Ontario. We donated all those ones. Same size, all downtown.

"It's something I believe in. We all talk about how kids are all hooked on video screens, how they need to be outside. And I believe kids want to be outside. So this is that opportunity."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Fraser confirmed the event wouldn't have happened in Penticton without the outdoor rink, and that it won’t be the last.

"Because we had an outdoor rink," he said, "we thought why don't we do an outdoor all-star game. And it's done well.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> 3 on 3 Game

"In the future, we'll want to move it around and give other communities opportunities, but it'll be here too."

Out on the ice, the BCHL players under the Team (Kyle) Turris banner were topping the players under the Team Courtnall banner in the final of a three-game 3-on-3 mini-series. They were having fun out there but the artificial lighting wasn't quite strong enough for photos, so we opted to head home.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> 3 on 3 Game

As we walked away, we spotted a fellow barbecuing weenies on a portable BBQ. Turns out his name is Adam Konanz, the Vees' chiropractor for a quarter century and now the Tuesday night Zamboni driver at the outdoor rink.

"I had a chance to go to this all-star game, " he laughed. "Outdoors, and do this barbecue. I mean, you gotta love tailgating, right? How fun is this today?"

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Konanz said he'd "never seen anything like this in Penticton," and gave us a gourmet hot dog as a going away present.

We gobbled it down. It was, like the day, excellent.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> 3 on 3 Game




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