If Victoria is known for its friendly, laid-back culture, it does share one thing with the rest of Canada – sold out branded hockey games. Walking by the ‘Save-on-Foods’ grocery store with it’s big green apple-vegetable sign, I discovered, ‘hey, wait a minute, this isn’t a grocery store at all; it’s an arena!’ The ‘Save-on-Foods’ disguise is pretty complete. Only locals in-the-know, all 7100 who pack the arena for sold-out games, realize it’s an ice rink not a supermarket.
What is this big branding trend in hockey? We don’t have local teams anymore we have: Air Canada (Maple Leafs), Scotiabank (Senators), Bell (Canadiens), Rogers (Canucks), and in Victoria, Save-on-Foods. How is a hockey outsider suppose to recognize their team arena anymore?
The Victoria Royals play in the ‘Western Hockey League’ and the night I walked by their grocery store, they were playing a sold-out game against the Portland Winterhawks. ‘A’ teams are wonderful to watch if you’re an NHL fan because many of the players on the ice are still vying for spots in the NHL, so the star players today at the grocery store could be playing at Scotiabank or for Air Canada tomorrow. Victoria is ‘Royal’ blue, which is convenient because many of the fans are also Vancouver Canucks fans and wear their blue Canucks’ jerseys to the rink on game nights. I think the hockey fever in Victoria surprised me because Victoria is mostly known for its contemporary dance, superb restaurants, and active living lifestyle. And yet, as the late Tom Connors reminds us, ‘we’re a hockey town tonight.’ This is one cultural past-time that is just as popular in Victoria as it is anywhere else in Canada.
This is the first hockey game I have been to where the players come out on to the ice and skate and sign children’s cards, shirts. The people’s pick, by longest autograph lineup, for players most likely to make it to the NHL? 17-year-old defender Keegan Kanzig and a centre with a Hansen brother mullet, Logan Nelson. Also, Portland’s top scorer Chase De Leo and aggressive goalie Brendan Burke seem destined to enter the entertainment league as well. The lineups to get on to the ice with the players after the game swam around the rink, and true to corporate culture, not one person was allowed on to say hello before signing an insurance waiver and donning a helmut. With that done, another ‘hockey night in Canada’ was enjoyed by all the children meeting their heroes, happy skaters and players meeting their fans.