TERRACE, British Columbia -- The main strip in this small town in the northwest corner of North America went dead silent on Monday night.
The "Mr. Mikes Grill" wasn't the place to be, as it had been the previous three nights. There was no line for doughnuts or coffee at Tim Hortons. There was no need for a police officer to direct traffic on Lakelse Ave.
Nope, on this night, all eyes in this community were on a sheet of ice at the Terrace Sportsplex. Normally, the 1,000-seat arena plays host to aspiring hockey players. On this night, that aforementioned group was in the stands, watching players from the highest level in the sport perform for them.
Yes sir, the National Hockey League was on display in a town that sits nearly a full day's drive from Vancouver. Before this night -- and after, too -- a nice chunk of change is required to see these Canucks in action.
But for three hours on Monday, the vision of Bob Park and Carol Fielding and the rest of the key players in Terrace's bid for Kraft Hockeyville came to fruition. There was no game played at the Bell Centre this evening. The Air Canada Centre wasn't hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs
. Madison Square Garden? You could've headed over there, only to find the doors are locked.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the center of the hockey universe on Monday night was Terrace, British Columbia. A town of roughly 20,000 people kicked off the NHL preseason in a fashion you really had to see to believe.
There were fans that had enough paint on them to make Gene Simmons jealous. There were thunder sticks in every section. There were signs welcoming CBC's Hockey Night In Canada.
And then, the Canucks took the ice. It was a roar usually reserved for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. So, why all the commotion? Because for the people of Terrace, this was their Stanley Cup Playoffs. Heck, it was Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.
"Obviously, we had tremendous support here tonight, as we did throughout the day," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault
said after his team earned a 2-1 win against the New York Islanders
. " I think for a first game, it was entertaining. I thought there was a lot of energy on the ice. At the end of the day, it turned out to be a pretty good day."
Indeed it was for the Canucks, who got a pair of goals from rookie Sergei Shirokov
and some splendid goaltending from Andrew Raycroft
, who is battling to be Roberto Luongo
's backup. Raycroft said it was easy to see the players feeding off such a boisterous crowd.
"Usually most exhibition games -- especially in the big buildings -- it's half empty," Raycroft said. "There's not a whole lot of excitement, but obviously that was not the case tonight. It was fun. Obviously, it's a great idea. Everyone around gets excited for it. We enjoy it. It's kind of fun to come up and see some new parts of the country. It's nice to mix it up early in the year."
The players mixed it up during the game and put on a tremendous show. Isles forward Jon Sim
played a big role and did his best to get his team a win with a game-tying goal midway through the second period. For Sim, coming to Terrace was an experience he won't soon forget.
"It was a great game," Sim said. "The pace was really fast for an exhibition game this early. It was a lot of fun. They were really into it. They were great. They represent Hockeyville tremendously."
And with respect. Although the fans here wanted to see the Canucks come away with a win, that didn't stop them from giving the Islanders a standing ovation as they took the ice. Naturally, the majority of the cheers went in Vancouver's direction once the puck dropped, but the Islanders expected that. It didn't prevent them from donating 30 sets of hockey equipment from head to toe to Terrace's youth hockey program. The announcement was made during the third period, which brought the capacity crowd to its feet.
"It was a great atmosphere … the fans were tremendous," Isles coach Scott Gordon
said. "It was an enjoyable game. This whole event has been tremendous, and we want to think everyone in the city here. I'm glad we did come here. It's been a tremendous event and on behalf of the New York Islanders
, we want to thank you."
Something tells us the feeling is mutual.
Contact Brian Compton at: email@example.com.