Canada celebrated in a canyon

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:56 AM ET

If Edmonton could have had a do-over on this deal, Monday’s ‘Canada Celebrates’ event should have been held at Telus Field instead of Commonwealth Stadium.

Then it would have had a capacity-plus crowd in the 9,500 seat ball park.

And it would have been perfect.

Telus Field is where half the money being raised for the Hockey Canada Foundation is going to end up — in the building of a transition outdoor rink set-up to be installed in the park every winter.

If only there hadn’t been 50,000 empty seats in Commonwealth, what we witnessed Monday would have had a fabulous feel to it and produced a feel-good story.

As it was, when they showed it on TSN, it looked like a Shreveport Pirates home game. And after the hockey players left, it was like George Canyon was playing in the Grand Canyon.

It was, from an attendance point of view, an embarrassment for a sports-related hosting in the city which sold out this year’s Grey Cup before the season started. If they’d put any of the work they put into producing the event into promoting it, Edmonton could have hit a home run here and delivered a very positive message to the hockey world.

Instead, because of the crowd, it had a cringe factor of 10. It made Chris Pronger look good for, along with Martin Brodeur, deciding not to be part of it.

It turned out to be a pretty bad place to hold a pretty good picnic.

To many of those who were there, especially the youth, it ended up making it up close and personal like few places these players have ever been with the public.

The crowd was encouraged to form on the field, creating a gauntlet five and six people deep the length from one end of the stadium to the other for the players to walk through, giving kids high fives, signing sweaters and rubbing shoulders.

Mark Messier started it. As a surprise guest, the legendary Oiler made the trip through the mini canyon of fans like he knew everybody.

“The last time I was here I had a white suit on and I was carrying the Cup,” said Messier, who was part of the celebration which drew 40,000 when the Oilers won their last Stanley Cup in 1990.

Duplicating the scene 20 years ago was the inspiration for adding the Commonwealth Stadium component to the annual gala and golf tournament.

Captains Hayley Wickenheiser and Scott Niedermayer came in riding in on tanks. The gold medal goalies Shannon Szabados and Roberto Luongo walked in together. There were all sorts of memory-making moments if there just weren’t all those empty seats in the background.

The idea was to give the Olympic gold medal winners — four months to the day after Sidney Crosby had scored the overtime winner — a chance to gave their own parade.

Not that it ever had chance of matching the Stanley Cup parade in Chicago.

“I don’t think this will be quite the same. I don’t think anything like that is going to happen,” said Jonathan Toews before the Olympians were paraded into the place.

“What happened in Chicago was unbelievable,” he said of the two million people who gave the Blackhawks a celebration for the ages.

“Not just in hockey, but in sports,” raved the Chicago captain. “Not just the parade but the bars and restaurants as we went around Chicago.”

The players left to do their own celebrating at the Gala at the Marriott at the River Cree Casino and Tuesday’s golf tournament split between the Blackhawk and Petroleum Club golf courses.

And organizing committee chairman Doug Goss went there trying to tell himself if he had it to do over, he’d still do it over.

“It was a real strange deal,” he said when the crowd, such as it was, had cleared from Commonwealth.

“You like to think that if you build it, they will come.

“The people who were here just loved it. It was folksy and Canadian.

“We knew we had a challenge with the very short time the players were in town to still be able to work in a public component. You can’t invited two Olympic gold medal winning teams from an Olympics held in Canada to Edmonton and not give the people a chance to interact with them. It’s too bad the only time we had a chance to do that was on a Monday at 4 p.m. But we did what we could and I’d do it again.”

At Telus Field?

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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