Friday night in November and the B.C. Hockey League's 2012-13 season is in full swing. Among the games on the schedule: West Kelowna Warriors visiting the Coquitlam Express. Promises to be a good tilt for these two teams, each within striking distance of top spot in their respective BCHL divisions. And it promises to be an even more-special night, with over a dozen members of the Vancouver Canuck Alumni in attendance at this first-ever "Canuck Alumni Night" at the Coquitlam Sports and Leisure Centre.
"Special" doesn't quite describe how things turned out.
How about a turnstile count of 1,500 fans, the biggest turnout since the Express returned to Coquitlam from their temporary home in Burnaby, three years ago? How about well over $2,000 raised on behalf of the main benefactors from the game, Eagle Ridge Hospital in neighboring Port Moody?
How about lineups of autograph-seekers that stretched around the concourse and kept on coming from the start of the first intermission to well past the midway mark of the second period?
And why not?
It's not every night that your average West Coast hockey fan gets to rub elbows with such elite veterans as Harold Snepsts, Jack McIlhargey, Ryan Walter, Dennis Ververgaert, Dennis Kearns, Chris Oddleifson, Doug Halward, B.J.MacDonald, Bob Murray and John Garrett. The Commissioner of the BCHL, Canuck Alumnus John Grisdale was also on hand. So was Alumni President Gerry Sillers, along with "supporting cast" members in the persons of team trainer Gerry Dean, announcer John Ashbridge and Alumni event director Robin Wyss. Oh, so was the President of the Express, one-time Canuck left-winger Darcy Rota.
Just to lend a touch of "big-league" sound to the whole affair, Darcy and his event staff even managed to convince the newly-svelte Canucks anthem singer, Mark Donnelly, to join the lineup at centre ice to lead the fans in belting out 'O Canada.' Happily, Donnelly's countertenor voice hasn't lost any weight during the off-season.
Eagle Ridge Hospital Foundation Chair Alison Johansen paid tribute to the Alumni before the game, thanking them for taking time out of their busy schedules to attend the evening's fundraising event ... later expressing her gratitude to the Express and the many sponsors who worked so hard for such a gratifying result: an estimated $2,400 raised as a result of the night's work.
As for the hosts, Express boss Rota said he was "absolutely delighted with the turnout ... not just with the fifteen hundred fans who showed up for the game, but the fact so many of my former colleagues from my playing days were able to make it. If this is going to be the kind of response that the Canuck Alumni can generate, you can be sure it won't be the last time we have a 'Canuck Alumni Night' in Coquitlam. Besides, they must be our good luck charm. We won the game; 5-4 in overtime."