As a student in Physical Education at the University of Alberta, with a focus in culture and event management, I took plenty of courses throughout my degree that examined the culture of Canada. In many cases, these courses had at least a lecture or two on hockey and the importance of hockey to Canadian culture. This is one of the reasons that I was excited to start my volunteering stint at the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championships here in Edmonton.
After spending a few months in Hawaii, it has been nice to be able to dive back in to hockey. And not only hockey, but the best kind: the kind that brings the world together behind a group of young, talented athletes. None of these guys have truly made it yet, so they are willing to put everything on the line at this tournament. I look forward to the World Junior Hockey Championships every year, and to be able to contribute and be a part of this fantastic event was an amazing experience for me.
I had forgotten how much I missed spending time at Rexall Place. The energy of the crowd at these games is like nothing I have ever seen before, and it was an amazing thing to experience firsthand. I had forgotten the hum of the crowd in the background of everything during a game, and just how loud a goal for the home team sounds in that arena.
I am thankful to have been a part of this event, and all the payment I could ever need was given to me every time each member of Team Canada fist-bumped my 9-and-10-year-old flag bearers when coming off the ice after warm-up. It was amazing to be able to provide that kind of experience to a few lucky young Albertan hockey players. It was also incredibly rewarding to be a part of coordinating the giant Canada flag that would make its way around the 200-level of Rexall Place at the beginning of each Canadian game. People would reach enthusiastically for just a brief graze of the flag. It was as though by touching this flag, the crowd would all feel as though they were a part of something bigger. The sight of every arm extended into the air, reaching for the flag is an experience that can only be described as magical.
Stepping back into hockey was the perfect way to dig right in to Canadian culture. From the volunteers willing to do anything and everything to help backstage, to the fans going all out to support the team at games, to the players that will do whatever they have to do on the ice, so many people put everything they had into this event. Holding the World Junior Hockey Championships in Alberta is a prime example of a celebration of hockey and Canadian culture.
As some of you may know, the slogan of this year’s Championship is “I Was There”. I love this slogan, and I love the way it shows how much hockey matters to the majority of our country. I definitely now have my fair share of “I Was There” moments. I was there when Paul Brandt sang a flawless, bilingual Canadian anthem – and sounded amazing doing it! I was there standing in the same room as Bobby Orr. I was there watching the one-and-a-half sections wide by ten rows tall Canadian flag make its way around the entire arena. I was there at ice level watching our flag be raised after Canada’s first win of the tournament. I was there when Petr Mrazek of the Czech Republic became a crowd favourite in a Canadian arena. I was there, chatting with the kids I worked with backstage after their interactions with Team Canada, realizing that this was truly one of the magical moments of this event.