Fans swarm Colwood arena for glimpse of hockey stars

Lifelong hockey and Canucks fan Tia McDonald knew the crowd would be tough on Monday, but endured it for a chance to see favourite player Alex Burrows.

The 21-year-old McDonald has autism. Although she is high-functioning, crowds can make her uncomfortable.

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“I knew there would be a crowd here, but I just wanted to see the team,” said McDonald, all decked out in a Burrows jersey.

Her father, Terry, said he and Tia are also season ticket holders to the Victoria Royals. Again, she braves the crowds for a chance to take in the games. “She loves it anyway.”

Father and daughter were two of about 2,000 people who lined up to catch a glimpse of their hockey heroes practising at The Q Centre in Colwood before the NHL pre-season game between the Vancouver Canucks and the San Jose Sharks on Monday evening. It was part of the 2015 Kraft Hockeyville win for North Saanich, which gets to host a pre-season game between two NHL teams played at a community rink and receives $100,000 to fix up the local arena, Panorama Recreation Centre. North Saanich won the event by out-voting all other contenders.

For Ron MacLean, Hockey Night in Canada host and veteran broadcaster, events like Kraft Hockeyville help make all of hockey a family, whether it’s NHL games, live broadcasts or community rinks.

“It was incredible to see so many people out just to watch a morning skate,” said MacLean, taking a break from signing autographs at The Q Centre, the usual home of the B.C. Hockey League’s Victoria Grizzlies.

He said he was born on Vancouver Island but moved away while he was too young to remember it. But Victoria players such as Geoff and Russ Courtnall, now retired, and current players, such as Jamie and Jordie Benn, both with the Dallas Stars, keep big-time hockey’s attention focused on the Island.

“I knew of the big love of hockey here,” said MacLean.

“My favourite story about the Courtnall brothers growing up here was how their father, Archie, would always make them stand up for O Canada.”

At The Q Centre were Sooke dad Nic Szadkowski and twin sons Barrett and Nixon, four, and daughter, Gracie, eight. Szadkowski said between playing when he was younger and now coaching his kids, all three of whom play hockey, the game is possibly the biggest thing in their family life.

“Hockey is everything,” Nic said. “It’s all we do. We’ve already been up at 6 a.m. this morning for a practice.”

For Langford moms Jen Lowe and Chris Ecklin, with about 10 boys aged nine to 13 from local minor hockey teams, hockey is more than just the game on the ice.

It’s young kids keeping fit, learning life lessons, it’s their excitement and it’s their dreams. But it’s also parents, coaching, watching and forging bonds, with things like carpools and passing along used gear. Together it all makes for community.

“I used to tell myself: ‘I will never be one of those crazy hockey moms driving everywhere and getting up early,’ ” said Lowe. “But now I’ve been part of it, I would not think of doing anything else,” she said.

rwatts@timescolonist.com

Twitter.com/tc_vicsports

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