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Ex-NHL stars visit hospital, share hockey memories

by Kevin Woodley

VICTORIA, British Columbia -- The NHL has come to North Saanich, British Columbia, for Kraft Hockeyville this weekend. But not everyone from this small community is able to make it out to see the Stanley Cup on Sunday or the Vancouver Canucks play the San Jose Sharks in a preseason game on Monday.

So the NHL brought the game to some of them instead.

Former players Doug Bodger and Jyrki Lumme spent Saturday afternoon visiting with residents in the extended care units at the Saanich Peninsula Hospital. As Bodger and Lumme weaved their way through the packed room autographing hockey cards, the stories began to flow in both directions, with hockey the common theme tying generations and communities together.

"They'd like a chance to go see a hockey game but they can't get there, so it was a pleasure for us to come here, say hi to some people and meet some local people, and we had some good stories from older people from all over the place," said Bodger, a native of Vancouver Island whose 15-year NHL career included three seasons with the San Jose Sharks and a brief stint with the Vancouver Canucks. "One guy was a coach from Toronto and he coached and watched Wayne Gretzky when he was 12 years old coming up in Brampton, [Ontario], so it was pretty interesting to talk to him."

Bodger and Lumme will return Sunday to the nearby Panorama Recreation Centre in North Saanich, which won this year's Kraft Hockeyville and the $100,000 for arena upgrades, to do some public skating and get a visit from the Stanley Cup. They will be skating with the grandchildren of several of the hospital residents they visited with on Saturday.

One of the residents may even have a relative playing for the Sharks on Monday. Valerie Mackey, 73, has a cousin who happens to be the mother of San Jose forward Frazer McLaren.

"Through the family we follow him, his mother emails my husband all time and lets us know how he is going and I keep thinking, little Frazer?" said Mackey, her voice rising incredulously at the idea of McLaren, who is now 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, playing in the NHL. "He's grown up."

Mackey wasn't the only one reminiscing about watching little kids who are now in the NHL.

Bodger, who is from Chemainus, a small town located about 60 miles north, remembered coming down to North Saanich to watch Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn play minor hockey.

"I'm very familiar with the area," Bodger said. "I remember going to the arena and watching little Jamie Benn play when he was younger and now he's a star for the Dallas Stars."

Bodger hopes to see more of those personal connections built through Kraft Hockeyville.

"We're all big hockey fans in this country and to get it up close and personal is just a little more special than watching it on TV," he said, "So it's great to see all the support for this here."

For Anne Casey, a recreational therapist at the hospital, those connections have already formed around the NHL coming to this small community on the southeastern tip of Vancouver Island, and around Bodger and Lumme coming to visit the extended care residents.

"There can be a feeling of isolation and this helps people feel connected, feel like part of the place they are living and that helps it become home," Casey said. "This connects to the bigger community and what is going on out there. We are part of it, we are not isolated."

Lumme felt that connection with Sig Officia, an 80-year-old former minor hockey coach who grew up in Montreal and remembers playing on the banks of the St. Lawrence River.

"Rubber ice," he said. "The boards were the snow banks."

The equipment was whatever they could build themselves.

"They used to wear Eaton's catalogues as shin pads," his wife, Diane Officia, said. "And when our son started playing he asked 'Why do I have to buy shin pads? I used catalogues."

Lumme chuckles affectionately at those stories.

"It's almost what I did as a kid," he said. "We were starting to get decent gear, but at times you used cardboard to make blockers for a goalie. A lot of good memories that way, skating outdoors and using glue and nails to keep your stick together after it broke."

Sharing those stories, and finding those bonds, is a big part of what drives the annual Kraft Hockeyville competition.

"That's the great thing about hockey," Lumme said. "It brings people together from different backgrounds. Whether you are 20 years old or 103 years old, you can still share some hockey stories."

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