KENORA, Ontario -- When a fiery winter sun rose on the Canadian Shield on Saturday, a hockey nation's DNA was in full view yet again.
The 17th annual Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada was headquartered 140 miles east of Winnipeg in this picturesque northwestern Ontario city of 15,000, where the Lake of the Woods, the harbor and the main streets were alive with a buzz of activity celebrating the game.
Not long after sunrise, Rob Neil and his work colleagues from TransCanada - some from as far away as Nipigon, Ontario, some 450 miles away - stood tall for the national anthem at the Kenora Recreation Centre and then began their re-enactment of the 1907 Stanley Cup challenge series between the Kenora Thistles and Montreal Wanderers, won by a 12-8 aggregate score by the visiting Thistles.
Those champions were an amateur team from a community that had a population of 4,000 and included future Hockey Hall of Famers Tommy Phillips, Tom Hooper, Billy McGimsie, Silas Griffis and, for the Stanley Cup challenge and victory, another future Hall of Famer, Art Ross.
Neil said he hadn't been on skates for 10 years but jumped at the chance to show his pride in Kenora Thistles history, including the Cup victory.
"Anyone who was at the [Hockey Day in Canada gala] dinner or watched the telecast today, you'll get dipped in that history," Neil said. "I thought I knew a lot of it but just from what I caught last night, I only know a snippet of it. It goes back a long, long way, through a lot of teams, affiliations, sportsmanship and characters.
"There's onus of responsibility that comes with throwing on one of these jerseys. You're representing a long line of hockey in this town. That was a lot of fun today."
The Thistles and Wanderers tribute teams, dressed in replica jerseys from the series 110 years ago, played to a 2-2 tie, allowing everyone to celebrate.
"We had the local Print Gear look at the 1907 photos and spec out a couple of jerseys for us, for both teams," Neil said. "And we gave one of these replicas to (broadcasters) Don Cherry and Ron MacLean last night (at the dinner)."
Neil had his Thistles jersey autographed by Hall of Famers Lanny McDonald and Bryan Trottier, who were in Kenora for the celebration.
"That was kind of a neat dinner, hobnobbing with those guys, telling some stories," Neil said.
One local watering hole, the Lake of the Woods Brewing Company, even created its own special-edition beer for Hockey Day in Canada - a 1907 Limited Edition Scottish cream ale to commemorate the occasion and the Thistles Stanley Cup victory.
A couple of slap shots west of the harbor, near Anicinabe Park, the Kroppy Cup also was underway shortly after sunrise.
The pond hockey tournament, played on six rinks on the lake's Golf Course Bay, was named for World War II veteran and longtime Kenora resident Len Kropioski, the popular Winnipeg Jets season ticket holder who died at the age of 98 on Sept. 13.
It was a dream scene on a perfect winter day for Jack Dawson, 47, of Kenora.
"This is probably the most fun I've had playing hockey in a very, very long time," Dawson said.
His team, Copperfin, had just finished its second of five games on the day, and Dawson, who moved to Kenora six years ago after growing up in Barrie, Ontario, couldn't stop smiling.
"It's just such a great day for Kenora," Dawson said. "Hockey Day, this is a big event here, great for the city, the organizers, the sponsors."
The official Grand Entry opening ceremony Saturday included native dancers and songs, with Trottier carrying the Stanley Cup during a procession to the stage and McDonald telling the hundreds of fans and volunteers in attendance, "You knocked it out of the park."