Hockey Hall of Fame member Lanny McDonald recalled a conversation with a young man from Arctic Bay, Canada, a resident of an Inuit town with a population of 832 located in the northern part of the country. The man was back from a pond hockey tournament in Igloolik, another small Canadian town (population: 2,000) after a one-way, two-day trip by snowmobile.
The Arctic Bay Impact finished third in the seven-game weekend tournament, but he felt the travel was worth it. McDonald said the story left him nearly speechless over what Arctic Bay's citizens endure to play a game they love.
"The weather was bad. Travel for two straight days by snowmobile to get there?" said McDonald, who ended a 16-season NHL career by winning the Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989. "We have no idea or no clue what they go through just to be able to play the game."
A proud community whose slogan is "Brave the Day, All Day. Any Day," Arctic Bay was one of seven Northern Canada communities visited by McDonald and NHL Alumni Association president Mark Napier last weekend in conjunction with Scotiabank, Canadian Tire, the NHL, Project North and First Air. The unique experience saw McDonald and Napier escort the Stanley Cup to Kugluktuk (population: 1,450), Resolute Bay (229), Arctic Bay, Pond Inlet (1,549), Igloolik, Cambridge Bay (1,477) and Yellowknife (19,234).
"It felt like three weeks were jammed into four days of traveling, and 5,300 kilometers and four times we crossed the Arctic Circle," McDonald said. "When you think about that, and when you take a map and draw from Kugluktuk to Resolute Bay to Arctic Bay to Pond Inlet and back up to Igloolik to Cambridge Bay and back to Yellowknife, it was like, 'Wow. What just happened?'"
What happened was through Scotiabank, in partnership with Canadian Tire, the non-profit Project North was able to donate 50 sets of hockey equipment (25 to Kugluktuk, 25 to Igloolik).
"It's really hard to explain," Napier said of the tour. "The look of the people, especially the kids' eyes when they see the Stanley Cup and when they see brand new equipment … for them to get a chance to try on and have new equipment they can play hockey with was really, really special."
Many children from the towns the tour visited live in extreme low-income areas without access to basic needs or resources.
"It's so hard to describe compared to what we're so used to," Napier said. "You see how they live and how they survive. You talk to them and they're going out hunting the next day and they hope they can get some meat they can use for the rest of the spring. It's seems so rough and rugged to us, but to them it's just a way of life.
"You realize they don't have much to do up there, so they fill a lot of their spare time by playing hockey, which is just wonderful, especially for the kids. You just realize what hockey means to a village like that."
Napier and McDonald said they felt like kids again when they spent 30 minutes skating with children who had being playing with mitts before donning helmets and gloves for the first time. In addition to the new equipment, they were touched by the reaction the Stanley Cup received.
"It doesn't matter what age you are," McDonald said. "When the Cup is around and you see the kids looking at names that they may have either only seen on the internet or possibly on television, and now they've found them on the Cup, and they run their fingers over the engraved letters, it's pretty cool.
"Mark and I, we've done a lot of different events with Scotiabank and couldn't be prouder, but this one totally knocked it out of the park. It was one of the best things we've ever done."