COLUMN: O’Leary – the little town that could

Della Sweet prepares to drop the ceremonial puck between Andy Greene of the Devils (left) and Dion Phaneuf of the Ottawa Senators. (Healey photo)

Last week, I took a mini-vacation to PEI. There was a reason why I would go to the Island after summer has ended and just a few days into the fall season. It was to be part of a historic moment for those in the Community of O’Leary.

The town—who have about 800 people to its name—was hosting Kraft Hockeyville 2017 after being selected the winner of $100,000 to the Community Sports Centre, and the rights to an NHL pre-season game, which just so happened to pit the New Jersey Devils, including the likes of Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier, against the Ottawa Senators, who’s roster was heavy with vets like Dion Phaneuf, Mark Stone, and Kyle Turris to name a few.

Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan, who did not play, signs autographs as he enters for the game day skate at Kraft Hockeyville. (Healey photo)

You see, back in 2002 I worked at the West Prince Graphic. While my time at the paper, based in Alberton, was short (just under 10 months), I stayed in the community for about five-and-a-half years working as a media officer for fast pitch leagues, midget AAA hockey leagues, national championship. and doing some freelancing for various papers like The Journal Pioneer and The Guardian. I made a lot of friends, friends who feel like family to me. That included several of the Fab 5 committee members on the O’Leary Hockeyville committee.

So when they won the contest, I already had it penciled in I would be going to the game—as media or a volunteer. I applied to the NHL on a Friday afternoon (Labour Day weekend) and got word shortly after deadline that I was good to go. So I did a happy dance.

Taking in the activities on Winning Weekend of Sept. 24, and seeing the involvement of teams like the UPEI Panthers women’s hockey team, getting out in the community showing young girls skills; and the Charlottetown Islanders going two hours up the road almost for a simple practice and skills competition was equally as impressive, and a good show of support by the QMJHL to spread it’s game across the province.

It didn’t hurt to see player Keith Getson being one of those participants in the lobster shucking contest either, which he came a close third in (just nipped for second).

Seeing the way the community and its businesses got behind it with open arms made my heart warm with pride, but this is exactly what I expected from the Western PEI community.

Nico Hischier of the New Jersey Devils poses for a photo with big Devils fan Jonathan Dunphy. (Healey photo)

It was also pretty cool for me, a reporter with a small-town community newspaper, to get to mingle with Sportsnet broadcaster Doug MacLean; Ken Reid; former NHLer Pascal LeClaire; and interview the likes of Devils first round pick Nico Hischier, of Halifax Mooseheads fame; Drew Stafford; Thomas Chabot a top prospect from the Sens; and Senator Nate Thompson.

It’s not every day you get that type of chance to hob nob with those you watch on TV play the game and also call the game, like Ron MacLean; Sens reporter Bruce Garrioch; and the Devils’ Amanda Stein.

Looking at the faces on the kids as players from each team entered Credit Union Place in Summerside where the game was held, leaves no doubt in my mind that O’Leary is the little town that could, and one that others will look to duplicate.

Jo-anne Wallace of the O’Leary Hockeyville committee hoists the trophy after being presented it during pre-game ceremonies on Sept. 25. (Healey photo)
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Patrick Healey
Pat has grown up in East Hants, having called Milford, and now Enfield home. He graduated from the journalism program at Holland College in 2001, and has spent time at newspapers in NL and Alberton and Summerside, PEI before becoming a reporter/photographer at The Weekly Press/The Laker in October 2008. He has a rescue kitty named Asha that is much loved—and spoiled. Pat is also our "social engagement guru." Check him out on twitter!