Hometown Hockey meant for Haliburton
|By Alex Coop - Staff Writer | October 12, 2017|
When Walt McKechnie saw Rogers Hometown Hockey on TV last year, he immediately envisioned a massive crowd in Head Lake Park, including minor hockey players donning their Storm jerseys, cheering for the cameras.
He quickly gave Ron MacLean a call and told him Haliburton was the perfect place to host Hometown Hockey.
“There’s a great sense of pride in Haliburton when it comes to hockey,” says the former Maple Leafs centre, adding he’s seen that energy trickle its way down into other sports in the community. “And we have four excellent homegrown hockey players who’ve played in the NHL.”
He points to Ron Stackhouse, Cody Hodgson, Bernie Nicholls and current Colorado Avalanche all-star Matt Duchene.
“To play even one game in the NHL is a major accomplishment. But then to stay in the league and maintain a career there … that’s not easy,” he says.
McKechnie, who played for nine NHL teams during his 17-year pro career, says the minor hockey community in Haliburton is not only vibrant, but very aware and supportive of the talent that’s gone on to play pro.
And even if they don’t go pro, he says, several players have the potential to go on to play minor pro hockey and lead fulfilling hockey careers outside of the NHL.
He attributes a lot of that to Scotty Morrison, former NHL referee, referee-in-chief and Hockey Hall of Fame president, and Jim Gregory and Wren Blair.
“They’ve done so much and been heavily involved with the community for years,” he says, referring to their work with Haliburton Hockey Haven.
Some of his favourite hockey memories in Haliburton come from coaching minor hockey.
“I loved coaching,” he says.
He recalls sitting a player for an entire period during an important playoff game. The peewee hockey player was harping at the referee too much, and found himself in the penalty box, over and over again. McKechnie decided to take a unique approach to deal with the problem.
“When he was sitting next to me, I asked him, ‘if you like sitting in the penalty box, sit here next to me. You get a much better view of the ice and you’re not alone.’ He didn’t say one word to the referee after that,” he laughs.
In April, McKechnie received a call from MacLean. Haliburton was going to be on the Hometown Hockey tour.
“This is massive, a huge deal for Haliburton,” he says. “People need to show up for this event. I want people around the world to see how big hockey is in a small community like this.”
With a potential for more than two million pairs of eyes watching the event live on TV, McKechnie says Hometown Hockey could have one of the biggest impacts on Haliburton, ever.
ALEX COOP is a reporter for The Highlander.