VANCOUVER – The 11th annual Hockey Canada Foundation Celebrity Classic hit Vancouver on June 23 and 24, and the event highlighted Canada’s Olympic success.
With festivities including a gala reception at Rogers Arena and a golf tournament at the Northview Golf and Country Club, three new honourees in the Order of Hockey in Canada were spotlighted.
They included the legendary Steve Yzerman, who, in addition to his three Stanley Cups with Detroit, won Olympic gold as a player in 2002 and served as the executive director of the gold medal teams in Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014; France St-Louis, the women’s hockey pioneer who captured five IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship gold medals and a silver medal at the history-making 1998 Nagano Olympics; and coach Clare Drake, who co-coached the 1980 Canadian Olympic team, among other international outings, and was best-known as the head coach of the University of Alberta Golden Bears for 28 seasons, winning six national titles.
“I started playing hockey at the age of five in Cranbrook, British Columbia,” Yzerman told a media gathering at a downtown Vancouver hotel. “I’ve remained in the game, involved in hockey, 44 years later. I’ve followed Canadian hockey at every level, watching Canada’s men and women play. Compared to our first Olympics in 1998, the level for both the men’s and women’s game has grown. For a lifetime in hockey, it’s been a thrill to be a part of it.”
“I wish I could be a bit younger so I could start again!” said St-Louis, who has worked with the French junior women’s national team for the past two years as part of the IIHF Ambassador and Mentor Program. “But unfortunately, I’m older. Maybe in my other life I could play minor hockey. We are at another level today than in the 1990s. I was on the national team for almost 10 years. I met great people. Hockey Canada treated us so well. Back then, we got a nice T-shirt and we were so happy. Now, when I look at the players today, I’m like, “Wow. Yeah.” I want to come back! I feel very privileged that I received this honour.”
Drake, 86, made a worldwide impact by conducting coaching workshops not only in Canada, but also in the United States, Europe, Asia, and Australia.
“As most of you realize, Hockey Canada is respected around the world for their information, their coaching clinics,” said Drake. “A lot of countries look to Canada for information. So it’s been a real honour to be involved with something like that.”
Also on hand were captains and coaches from Canada’s gold medal-winning teams in IIHF competition this past season.
Sidney Crosby and Mike Babcock represented the Olympic men’s team, while Caroline Ouellette and Kevin Dineen were there for the Olympic women. Laura Schuler, who won three world titles and 1998 Olympic silver as a player, coached the 2014 World Women’s U18 team to gold in Budapest, Hungary, and was accompanied by assistant captain Karly Heffernan.
Babcock – the only coach to win Olympic gold (2010, 2014), World Championship gold (2004), World Junior gold (1997), and the Stanley Cup (2008) – spoke glowingly of Drake’s legacy: “He led the way so that guys like myself who weren’t NHL players could one day end up coaching in the National Hockey League. For that, I’m forever grateful.”
Crosby reflected on his youthful idolization of Yzerman: “Growing up, Steve was always someone I looked up to. I think when you look at the position he had at the last two Olympics and the amount of pressure he had to deal with, he showed as a player he could handle it, and certainly as a GM too.”
Yzerman, who now serves as the GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, took a moment to reminisce about ex-Detroit teammate Dominik Hasek. The Czech superstar goalie will join Peter Forsberg, Rob Blake, Mike Modano, coach Pat Burns, and referee Bill McCreary as part of an outstanding 2014 Hockey Hall of Fame class.
“Dom was a phenomenal athlete and competitor,” Yzerman said of Hasek, who backstopped the Czechs to 1998 Olympic gold and Detroit to the 2002 Stanley Cup. “When I played with him in 2002, having the opportunity to shoot on him in practice was so much fun. You got a real appreciation for how good he was and the determination he had. In practice he kept track of who scored, how many goals you scored, where the pucks went in the net, and he was bound and determined to stop you. He was a great ambassador for our game in the sense that he brought the position to a different level in a unique style.”
Babcock and Crosby both indicated that they’d love to see Canada’s NHL best continuing to participate in future Olympics.
“To me, the Olympic Games are so special,” Babcock said. “My mom never watched sports, but she watched the Olympic Games. People who aren’t interested in sports still follow the Olympics. I think it’s the greatest opportunity, best-on-best, to celebrate the sport. The experience for me has been absolutely fantastic. What I shared with my family in Vancouver and the guys in Sochi was something you want to be part of, and you want other people to be part of. It’s the thrill of a lifetime.”
“Obviously, when I go back to my two experiences, they were pretty good,” said Crosby with a smile. “I’d want to be part of it again.”
The question now is, will Hockey Canada be able to maintain its record of Olympic success in light of changes to its leadership?
Most significantly, IIHF Vice President Bob Nicholson has left his post as Hockey Canada’s executive director to join the Edmonton Oilers. Brad Pascall, previously Hockey Canada's vice-president of hockey operations and national teams, is now an assistant general manager with the Calgary Flames. And Yzerman announced after Sochi that he would not return to guide Canada at future Olympics. But Yzerman believes Hockey Canada is ready.
“During my involvement with Hockey Canada, Bob always stressed that it was development not only for players, but also for coaches and managers,” Yzerman said. “It was a development program for everyone. I think we’re very fortunate with the passion and interest in the game at all levels that these positions will be filled by extremely competent, really good people. I think Bob’s greatest legacy with Hockey Canada is the structure he set up and the attitude or mentality of what we’re trying to do with hockey in Canada.”
Proceeds from the Hockey Canada Foundation Celebrity Classic will benefit the Canucks for Kids Fund and hockey development initiatives across Canada.