It doesn’t matter whether you cheer for the Vancouver Canucks or the Calgary Flames; trying to score season tickets can be as prohibitive as investing in real estate these days. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to celebrate our national sport; playing, watching and celebrating it in right-sized B.C. cities.
By Lucas Aykroyd
This winter, discover how you can get that “Sidney Crosby scores for Canada in overtime!” feeling–minus the big-city sticker shock. These beautiful, affordable communities are rich in hockey history, special events, exciting Western Hockey League (WHL) and British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) junior teams, plus opportunities to play, from beer leagues to children’s minor hockey at well-maintained local arenas. Smaller B.C. centres also boast fantastic options for relaxing before and after games.
March 2020 sees Salmon Arm hosting Rogers Hometown Hockey, and the picturesque interior city boasts other hockey distinctions as well. Cody Franson and Curtis Lazar are Salmon Arm natives who recently made the NHL. The BCHL’s Salmon Arm Silverbacks seek their first championship at the Shaw Centre. Staff at the Shuswap Academy Elite Hockey School have offered training for close to 40 years. From mountain biking around Shuswap Lake to cross-country skiing in Larch Hills, staying in shape is fun here. Get a taste: Order personal-size nachos or get burgers to go at Shuswap Lake Brewing Co’s Barley Station Brew Pub.
Will the Canucks relocate their farm team to the 7,000-capacity Abbotsford Centre? It was once home to Calgary’s AHL affiliate, the Abbotsford Heat. Regardless, this December 2019 Rogers Hometown Hockey host community, which produced current Canuck Jake Virtanen, has lots to offer. The Abbotsford Minor Hockey Association has honed the skills of NHLers like Noah Juulsen and Kyle Cumiskey. From skating to saunas to swimming pools, the Abbotsford Recreation Centre and Matsqui Recreation Centre are fitness meccas. Get a taste: The 2016-opened Canadian Brewhouse is ideal for enjoying pizza and dry ribs while watching games on big-screen TVs.
Rod Brind’Amour put the Carolina Hurricanes on the map in 2006 when he hoisted the Stanley Cup as team captain. His hometown of Campbell River–a March 2020 stop for Rogers Hometown Hockey–is hockey crazy. Check out Junior B hockey with the top-flight Campbell River Storm at the Rod Brind’Amour Arena. Next Level Training offers skills camps for youngsters at the Strathcona Gardens Recreation Complex. Brind’Amour and Edmonton Oilers star Ryan Nugent-Hopkins run an annual cystic fibrosis fundraiser at Storey Creek Golf Club, while ex-NHLer Clayton Stoner hosts the Howie Meeker Special Olympics Golf Classic at the Campbell River Golf & Country Club. Get a taste: Between sporting outings, devour locally caught salmon and Dungeness crab at the Harbour Grill.
The romance of pond hockey is alive and well in Fernie. Ringed by the Rocky Mountains, the city has a new outdoor rink complete with penalty boxes and player benches, donated by the Calgary Flames. After playing shinny, relax in the adjacent Fernie Aquatic Centre’s steam room and hot tub. If you want your kids to combine elite hockey training with high school education here in the Elk Valley, enroll them with the new Fernie Academy Fury. The Fernie Ghostriders compete in the Junior B Kootenay International Junior Hockey League at the Fernie Memorial Arena. Get a taste: Before home games, catch NHL action at the nearby Pub Bar & Grill, savoring their famous chicken wings with the Fernie Brewing Company’s 3300 Golden Ale.
Billed as the “Tournament Capital of Canada,” Kamloops has recently demonstrated that nickname applies to women’s hockey, too, by hosting the 2014 Four Nations Cup and 2016 IIHF Women’s World Championship. At the 5,464-capacity Sandman Centre, root for the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, whose alumni include legends like Mark Recchi and Scott Niedermayer. Get a taste: Hockey fans flock to The Noble Pig and Red Collar Brewing for hearty pub fare and craft beer.
From stars like Tyson Barrie to journeymen like Adam Cracknell, Langford, just west of Victoria, continues to produce NHL players. The BCHL’s Victoria Grizzlies thrill fans at the Q Centre. This thriving Vancouver Island city is renowned in part for its shopping, and Bladz Skate Shop, Out of Bounds, and Sport Chek will cover all your hockey-gear needs. Get a taste: At Bear Mountain Resort, play two Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses and grab a bite at Masters Lounge, or work out at its well-equpped North Langford Recreation Centre.
Vancouver Island’s “Hub City” is a hub of hockey activity, too. Nanaimo hosted 2019 World Junior training camps for the Czechs and Slovaks. The BCHL’s Nanaimo Clippers have produced NHLers from Mel Bridgman to Jason Garrison. Frank Crane Arena, their 3,000-seat home, is one of four Nanaimo-area ice surfaces. The Nanaimo Minor Hockey Association offers summer camps for both boys and girls. Get a taste: The Windward Pub proudly sponsors the Nanaimo Clippers. Try the famous Smash Burger that’s the Thursday special there.
The B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame isn’t Penticton‘s only calling card. It also boasts the South Okanagan Events Centre, home to the BCHL’s Penticton Vees and the world-famous Okanagan Hockey Academy. The $90-million venue includes three NHL-sized rinks, athletic therapy facilities, a 5000-square-foot gym, and much more. Golf, biking, beaches, and wine-tasting make the gorgeous lakefront city, whose original senior Vees won the 1955 world championship, an easy sell for sports junkies. Get a taste: Visit the downtown vintage-theatre location of TIME Winery, the offical wine partner of the Calgary Flames.
The WHL’s Prince George Cougars have spawned Stanley Cup winners and Olympic gold medalists like Zdeno Chara, Dan Hamhuis and Eric Brewer. Cheer for the current Cougars as they quest for their first league title at the 5,971-capacity CN Centre. The BCHL’s Prince George Spruce Kings also inspired fervor when the Junior A squad earned their first Doyle Cup in 2019. Gearing up for the rec hockey at the popular Elksentre Arena or Kin Centre? Work out at the state-of-the-art Northern Sport Centre. This 145,000-square-foot facility on the University of Northern BC campus features an indoor track, group drop-in fitness classes, squash courts, and much more. Get a taste: The down-home Westwood Pub is a popular hotspot in Northern B.C.’s largest city. Watch hockey while tucking into fish and chips or six varieties of poutine.
Trail made international hockey history when the amteur Smoke Eaters won the world championship in Switzerland in both 1939 and 1961. Today, this welcoming, blue-collar Kootenay city proudly maintains its hockey legacy. View Smokies memorabilia at the free, 2018-opened Trail Museum, or root for the BCHL team of the same name at the recently renovated Cominco Arena. The central Home of Champions monument honours longtime NHLers like Ray Ferraro and Adam Deadmarsh. Get a taste: Stay fit for rec hockey yeaer-round with skiing or mountain biking at nearby Rossland’s RED Mountain Resort, and fuel up on braised lamb shank and crispy Brussels sprouts at The Velvet in The Josie Hotel.
WHERE THE PLAYERS ARE
Ever wondered where hockey players live, play and vacay when they’re off the ice? Here are a few B.C. communities to watch.
VERNON: Predator Ridge is the summer home of Hockey Canada, with it’s own hockey house/cabin (above). At this fabled golf resort community, you might spot stars like Shea Weber or Justin Schultz teeing off.
KELOWNA: The home of the WHL Rockets and the 2020 Memorial Cup also lures dozens of NHLers with its foodie scene, wine and delightful Okanagan weather. Jarome Iginla and Wade Redden are among those who have called Kelowna home recently.
TOFINO: Former Canucks centre Brendan Morrison now resides in this idyllic and remote town of 1,000 on the west coast of Vancouver Island. He hosts the annual Tofino Saltwater Classic fishing derby. Two other ex-Canucks, Willie Mitchell and Dan Hamhuis, co-own the revitalized Tofino Resort + Marina.
WHISTLER: Just two hours from Vancouver, the host mountain resort of the 2010 Winter Olympics attracts NHLers from Sven Baertschi to Richard Bachman with hiking, fishing and more.