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Hometown Hockey's a hit in Kitchener

Last Updated Oct 12, 2015 at 10:01 am EST

Ron MacLean, Jennifer Botterill, Tara Slone, and the Barenaked Ladies pump up the crowd in Kitchener for Hometown Hockey. Photo: Martin Bauman (570 News)

It’s been a weekend for the ages, and not just because of Oktoberfest and Thanksgiving.

Hometown Hockey has fans buzzing after a jam-packed and star-studded two days.

You couldn’t ask for better weather all weekend, and the atmosphere in downtown Kitchener was incredible.

Hundreds of hockey fans — many decked out in jerseys, a brave few donning face paint, and one fan even wearing a Don Cherry-esque suit — gathered in Carl Zehr Square for the festivities.

Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic says it’s been “absolutely phenomenal.”

“I’ve talked to people who just can’t believe that there’s so much activity downtown on King Street,” he adds. “I’ve talked to some of our business owners who are thrilled to have it down here. My only hope is to see how we can build on this and maybe get them back at some point in the future.”

Ron MacLean, the host of Hometown Hockey and longtime face of Hockey Night in Canada, spoke with 570 News about the pleasure of travelling across the country and showcasing communities like Kitchener:

“When I was a referee for 23 years in the Hockey Canada program, the greatest thrill I ever had — bigger than Hockey Night in Canada, bigger than the Stanley Cup — was standing at centre ice during the national anthem. I think that’s what this show really represents — that feeling of ‘O Canada’, right? So whether it’s the fisheries in Atlantic Canada or the Grand River Valley, it just feels so ‘us’.”

One highlight for hockey fans was getting the chance to meet Hall of Famers Darryl Sittler and Paul Coffey.

Sittler told 570 News that back in elementary school, he wrote down ‘hockey player’ and ‘crane operator’ as the two jobs he thought he might like to do when he grew up. Ironically, his principal advised him to stay in school or focus on becoming a crane operator.

“I just loved to get out there — couldn’t get enough of it. Your feet would be freezing, it would be snowing and cold, and you’d come in and warm up, and then go back out again,” Sittler said.

Coffey says that he has fond memories of playing for the Kitchener Rangers:

“One of the best rinks in the league, best fans in the league, it sold out every night, and it was a real pleasure and honour to play here.”

MEMORABLE QUOTES FROM DARRYL SITTLER AND PAUL COFFEY’S HOTSTOVE:

Sittler, on earliest memories of hockey:

“One of my early memories was right here in Kitchener. I grew up in St. Jacobs. My mom and dad didn’t have a lot of money to get to an NHL game, but my dad got some tickets to an exhibition game at the old Aud.

The Chicago Blackhawks were playing the Rangers. I might’ve been six or seven at the time, and I was waiting after the game, outside on a cold September night, hoping to maybe get an autograph. A number of players walked by and didn’t sign. Finally, two guys stopped: Bobby Hull and Andy Bathgate.

I’ll always remember that moment forever. The thing I remember most about it is how first impressions are lasting for any of us — good, bad, or indifferent.”

Coffey, on his biggest influence as a kid:

“I was nine years old, playing in Mississauga, and I was huge Leafs fan. Dave Keon was my guy. Of course, I had to be a centreman — that’s the only place I could play.

I went and tried out for the Mississauga Reps when I was nine years old, and the coach at the time decided to put me back on defence, because he felt that I was a decent skater and could move the puck.

I remember the car ride home, snivelling in the back seat until my dad couldn’t take it anymore, and he said, ‘why are you crying?’ I said, ‘because I don’t want to play defence; I’m a centreman, and I want to be like Dave Keon.’ I remember my dad saying, ‘how many forwards are on a team?’ At the time, I said, ‘nine.’ He said, ‘how many defencemen are on the team?’ At the time, we had four.

All of a sudden, the thought of getting more ice time stuck with me, and I thought I’d give it a chance.”