Navan shoots for Hockeyville glory

AEDAN HELMER, Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 6:50 PM ET

It doesn’t take more than a quick look around the streets of Navan to see the rich hockey history etched on the faces of the community.

The storefronts, schools and homes that line the intersection of Trim and Colonial roads, in Ottawa’s rural east, are all flying the banner of Kraft Hockeyville, as the competition for bragging rights — and a $100,000 pot of gold — makes a final push toward the Jan. 30 deadline.

With a little more than a month to go, no community in Ontario has garnered more support for its bid.

Local historians have nearly 100 years of hockey heritage to draw from when submitting stories and photos.

The first organized hockey games are on record as far back as 1913.

“There’s a rich history of hockey in Navan, and that’s what we’re trying to relive,” says bid organizer Barry Irvine.

Volumes have be written about the Navan Memorial Centre alone. How the community rallied each time when the old barn burned down in 1953, was condemned with rotting wood trusses 30 years later, and then rebuilt to its present-day form, the home of the CJHL’s Cumberland Grads and geographical and figurative centre of the community.

The arena is booked seven days a week for community use, and the grounds serve as home to the Navan Fair.

Then there’s the cast of characters.

Hec Kilrea — whose nephew is Hall of Fame coach and builder Brian Kilrea — has his roots in Navan.

Montreal Canadiens and former Senators assistant coach Pierre Groulx cut his teeth working the benches at the old Memorial Centre.

And current NHLers Matt Bradley, Claude Giroux and Jonathon Matsumoto, as well as OHL scoring leader Jason Akeson, all starred for the Grads on their way up.

Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien also has ties to the community.

Irvine fondly remembers his teammates from the mid-1970s Navan Flyers, goaltender Jacques Martin — the former Senators coach and current Habs bench boss — and dearly departed Pat Burns, who included the old Navan arena among his first stops in a decorated career.

“We’re very fortunate to have had some people come through here and move on to greater things,” says Irvine, a former Grads coach and GM.

Bradley, whose Washington Capitals passed through Ottawa last weekend, credited the Grads organization for starting his career.

“As an undrafted player to the CJHL, my dream of playing hockey for a living seemed to be fading,” wrote Bradley, adding “I got my chance” with the Grads.

“I have fond memories of travelling from my native Stittsville to Navan with my dad several times a week. We always felt at home when we arrived seeing the Bradleys’ grocery store, just like the family business back home. The hockey was great too; the rink, the team and of course the great fans who all shared my passion for our favourite Canadian pastime.”

Five Hockeyville finalists will be selected, with four communities getting $25,000 and the top bid winning $100,000 in arena upgrades, along with the right to host an NHL pre-season game.

The Navan bid committee is hosting a “Vintage Day” on Jan. 9, featuring an alumni game between the Grads and Gloucester Rangers. Visit navanhockeyville.ca for more information.


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