Hockey Night in Brantford had all the atmosphere of its national TV namesake as practically everyone who had any local connection to the sport turned out to be part of a rousing performance of the game – and raise $70,000 for the Brant United Way.
Two teams loaded with current and alumni NHL stars from communities in Brantford and Brant County, buttressed by a contingent of Conservative MPs and other accomplished local players thrilled a large crowd in two periods of play in the main arena of the Wayne Gretzky Sport Centre on Wednesday.
“This is a dream come true for me,” Brant MP Phil McColeman, who provided the inspiration for the event, said by the boards in a short break during the warm-up skate about 20 minutes before game time.
“I’m having lots of fun, helping raise some money, and playing with some of the greatest players who have come out of Brant and made it in the NHL,” he said.
“I never made it, but I always dreamt that I’d be on the ice some day with those who did.”
He was playing with the likes of Burford native Adam Henrique, who plays for the New Jersey Devils, and was playing for the white-jersey “West Team” on Wednesday; and Zac Dalpe of Paris, who is under contract for the Carolina Hurricanes, and was in the red jersey “East team” lineup.
Also on the West Team were: Doug Jarvis, who grew up in Brantford and played for the Montreal Canadiens through four Stanley Cup wins; Paul Polillo, who played for the Pittsburgh Penguins; Paris-born Jay Wells, who played for a succession six teams over 17 years in the NHL; and Kelly MacLean of St. George, who was team captain of the University of Waterloo Warriors women’s team.
The Conservative connection included Defence Minister Peter MacKay, MP for Central Nova, Niagara West-Glanbrook MP Dean Allison, Leeds-Grenville MP Gord Brown, Barrie MP Patrick Brown, St. Catharines MP Rick Dykstra, Huron-Bruce MP Ben Lobb, and Edmonton-Leduc MP James Rajotte.
The East Team won with a convincing 13-7 score in a non-contact game marked by rapid forays up and down the ice.
Before the action began, MacKay slowly did leg stretches near the boards before finally standing up and hefting his stick.
“It takes a lot to warm up these days,” he said and then skated away.
It was a big night for Brantford Girls Hockey Association, as five players – Alexis Drury, Bella Miller, Kelsie MacPhee, Grace Rattleband and Angel Russell – got the honour of escorting the stars onto the ice under the announcer’s call.
“It’s good for the association and a thrill for each of them,” said Bryan Drury, who had arranged for them to get escort positions.
Jarvis smiled his way through an evening he regarded as a homecoming.
“I was quite excited to get a phone call to come and be part of this. It’s a real honour to be back,” he said.
Then, referring to the rejuvenated four-pad Wayne Gretzky Centre, he said: “What I’ve seen of this is incredible. It’s a big step up from what it was when I left here to pursue my career.
“This city really supports hockey in a big way.”
Dalpe said of the event and the arena: “Until you see this, you don’t know how much hockey there is in Brantford. It’s a huge honour to be able to help.
One of the coaches for the West Team was Leo Reise, who grew up in Brantford and played two Stanley Cup-winning seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, in 1949-50 and 1951-52.
“This is a homecoming type of thing. It’s something I was happy to do,” he said.
Then he leaned forward to jest.
“I was watching Jay Wells speaking freely with people on the other team, and I told him I didn’t like it,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.
“In our day you didn’t fraternize with the competition.”
Kristin Pass, Brant United Way executive director, said that money raised by the event is welcomed.
“This will have a significant impact on people’s lives, on the lives of agencies and we know this community needs it,” she said.
“United Way touches people’s lives every day- moving people out of poverty, helping children and families.
“This gets us off on a good start. They’ve given us a great gift to get started with. It will also help buffer us if we do have any challenges.”
With files from Hugo Rodrigues, The Expositor
Via Brantford Expositor.