Hockey Day appears dead-cert as councillors coo over plans

A television camera broadcasts a hockey game involving Team NT at the 2019 Canada Winter Games
A television camera broadcasts a hockey game involving Team NT at the 2019 Canada Winter Games. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

Yellowknife looks almost certain to host Hockey Day in Canada next year as city councillors lined up to praise the plans at a meeting on Monday afternoon.

A vote next week to endorse the proposal appears a formality.

The half-day live TV show, broadcast by Rogers Sportsnet and sponsored by Scotiabank, is billed as “one long Yellowknife commercial” by staff at City Hall.

On Monday, councillors discussed the proposal as set out in a briefing note ahead of the meeting.



The City is being asked to pay $55,000 and contribute staff hours in return for a four-day hockey extravaganza costing in the millions. Rogers and Scotiabank will each contribute up to $500,000.

Organizers approached Yellowknife late last year. On Monday, City staff said the proposed dates had shifted slightly to February 11-15, 2020 — representing Hockey Day in Canada’s 20th anniversary.

While councillors had mild reservations regarding the impact on Yellowknife’s peak tourist season and the demands on staff, those concerns were secondary to the delight expressed at a perceived opportunity for the city.

“This would be a deal at 10 times the price [with] the amount of exposure that we’re going to get for this,” declared Councillor Steve Payne. The Hockey Day broadcast is said to be watched by up to 10 million people.



“I think this is one of the best things that will have happened to us in a lot of years, when it comes to national exposure,” Payne continued.

In a 45-minute briefing and discussion, councillors were shown a remarkable video clip in which residents of Gander, NL, chronicled their community’s history through amateur dramatics and song as part of a similar televised event.

“They [Hockey Day in Canada] have been in Whitehorse, and Whitehorse’s experience was a good one. They are very positive about it,” added Johanna Elliot, the City’s facilities manager, presenting to councillors.

Sheila Bassi-Kellett, the city administrator, suggested nearby Indigenous communities could come on board to partner in staging the event — mentioning Délı̨nę, the self-professed “birthplace of hockey.”

‘Certainly exciting’

An arts program, a range of hockey games, appearances by NHL alumni, and a broadcast featuring Ron McLean and Don Cherry are all part of the Hockey Day package.

In return, the City pays $55,000 — in part to hire a consultant who oversees the event’s organization — and devotes 1,200 staff hours to preparations.

Councillor Shauna Morgan, while stating “there’s lots to be gained” from hosting the event, said 1,200 hours represented “about 30 staff committing a full week. That seems like a lot.”

City staff said those hours included all work from the moment a contract is signed to the end of the event, and much of that would come in the form of a gradual planning process.



“It certainly is exciting,” said Councillor Niels Konge, though he did point out the potential for the hotel rooms required — 253 nights in total, working out to around 60 per day — to disrupt the work of tour operators in the city.

The City says those rooms are already tentatively booked.

“I just want us to be aware of the fact we are essentially taking 60 hotel rooms off, for a one-time event,” said Konge. “That could have some detrimental effects on our long-term tourism opportunities.

“During peak season, that’s probably a couple of hundred tourists that aren’t coming to town for four days. I just want to make sure we are looking at all aspects.”

Yellowknife will be the last of the territorial capitals to host Hockey Day in Canada. Iqaluit hosted in 2003 and Whitehorse in 2011.

If the show comes to the NWT, all provinces and territories bar Quebec will have hosted the event in its 20-year history.