BY CHRIS HUSSEY
All eyes were on Kitchener when the Rogers Hometown Hockey series kicked off its second season this weekend.
The two-day hockey celebration took place in downtown Kitchener on Oct. 10 and 11 to recognize the hockey community in this city. The live portion of the event, which started at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 11, featured a performance by the Barenaked Ladies. There were also interactive displays, alumni interacting with fans and plenty of other activities for adults and kids alike.
Hometown Hockey was a series on TV that ran last year and it focused each week on a particular city in Canada. In many ways, it was a mobile hockey festival, travelling through a variety of cities across Canada. While this hockey festival often went on throughout the day, the live portion only lasted around an hour. The series often ran on Sundays and was featured on the sports channel, Sportsnet.
The series centres on Ron MacLean, the popular broadcaster and co-host of the long-running Coach’s Corner segment with Don Cherry. Tara Slone, co-host and Rogers Hometown Hockey Ambassador, works alongside MacLean and she said he is just as endearing off-camera as he is on-camera.
“People just adore him,” she said.
Although the series focused on many cities last year, Kitchener was not chosen as one of them. Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said it was better to host the event this year to provide a boost to downtown Kitchener businesses, which have struggled during the ION construction.
“It grows the Oktoberfest audience but also brings many people downtown to explore our shops (and) visit our restaurants,” he said. He also added that it gave Kitchener the opportunity to be showcased to a national audience, which he said is something that often takes a lot of money to do.
Hometown Hockey might have rallied the community around the seemingly universal love for hockey, but Kitchener was certainly not lacking in that area. In fact, the Kitchener Rangers, an OHL team in the city, are a community team supported by the city. The result of this is that the team is actively involved in the community, and Vrbanovic said that this has been beneficial for the team.
“I mean, it is probably one of the strongest, if not the strongest franchise in the OHL, and I think a lot of that has to do with the community focus,” he said.
The live segment in the city was shown on Sportsnet on Oct. 11 before an NHL game featuring the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators.
In an interview before the weekend, Slone said she was excited to hear of Kitchener’s selection to host the events and expected it to be a great success.