THE Vancouver Canucks stopped in Prince Rupert for a brief visit on Saturday. The team’s veterans -including Roberto Luongo, Ryan Kesler, the Sedin twins, new coach John Tortorella and owner Francesco Aquillini -were en route to an exclusive fishing lodge on Haida Gwaii. The trip is a team building exercise prior to the on-set of training camp.
While Roberto Luongo may be back with the team reluctantly one thing is clear – he is still the fan favourite.
Luongo was the most in-demand Canuck of the day, signing autographs well after the other players had headed to the team bus from the arena where more than a 1,000 fans had gathered.
The team bus just happened to be parked beside where the Zamboni dumps its snow. It may have been one of the hottest days of the year in Prince Rupert, but when Luongo finally emerged he was greeted with a flurry of snowballs from his teammates.
The official visit was a precious but all too brief meet-and-greet that allowed the team to connect with the local kids and First Nations communities – two of the most hardcore groups of fans in this hockey mad province. Though it went by far too quickly, the community was alive with energy. It is truly amazing just how much of an impact the team can have on communities across the province.
Dan Hamhuis grew up four hours down the road in Smithers, BC.
“Yeah, I grew up playing hockey all around the Northwest – Smithers, Houston, Hazelton, Terrace, Kitimat, Rupert, as far away as Fort St. James. It brings back some memories, that’s for sure,” he said.
Hamhuis is the team’s de facto tour guide for this trip.
“I told the guys to expect some pretty rambunctious fans up here, and they certainly have lived up to the billing,” he said.
“It is great to get out across the province,” said team captain Henrik Sedin. “People always think of the Canucks as Vancouver’s team, but there are some amazing fans across all of BC.”
Laurence Gilman, the Canucks assistant general manager, said that the team has never done this before in his five years with the organization, but he hopes to see it again.
“We are always looking for team building ideas and this allows us to get out to see many of the fans who otherwise never get a chance to see their heroes,” he said. “It also is really humbling to see the fan response and interaction. The whole organization is reminded of the opportunities and responsibilities we have with our fans.”
In hockey terms Prince Rupert is most definitely a 4th line plugger – proud and undeterred, still fighting and hoping for glory. The town has always dreamed big, but never quite made it. Yet the weather beaten residents (if you think it rains a lot in Vancouver, you should try spending time in Rupert) keep at it.
This seaside town – which Rod Brind’Amour called home for two seasons of minor hockey – has such great character and a certain charm, and was absolutely at its best on Saturday.
The team is off to world famous Haida Gwaii for an exclusive fishing trip at Langara Island fishing resort. They will meet the 300 or so residents of Old Massett before concluding their whirlwind trip and begin training camp. Haida Gwaii may be the home of countless totem poles and National Geographic photographers, but is probably the only part of the province that has never had a hockey rink.
Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii may not be your typical hockey towns. But they are Canucks towns. They gather around the TV (or maybe the radio on the many fishing boats, in this case) and follow the ups and downs of their favorite team, just like people in the Okanagan or the Lower Mainland. They are very different types of Canucks towns, but on this weekend Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii prove that the famous slogan really is true: We are all Canucks.
Joe Pelletier is a Terrace, BC hockey writer. Visit him at www.greatesthockeylegends.com.