The Vancouver Canucks surprised elementary students from Surrey’s Strawberry Hill school on Tuesday, joining the juniors for a free skate at Robson Square in Vancouver.
The Canucks will take on the Ottawa Senators this Sunday, March 2, at BC Place for the 2014 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic, and the fourth-grade Surrey students were all given tickets today to this weekend’s outdoor extravaganza.
In attendance from the Canucks were three members of the oh-so-close 1994 Stanley Cup running team – goalie ‘Captain Kirk’ McLean, defenceman Jyrki Lumme, and pint-sized, Burnaby-born forward Cliff Ronning – as well as current Vancouver forward Mike Santorelli and the team’s mascot Fin.
“This was an incredible opportunity, for them to be out here,” said Brett Cameron, the students’ teacher, who was also on the ice on Tuesday, and even had his name called out by famous Canucks announced John Ashbridge.
“These kids from Strawberry Hill, they don’t get out and skate as much as, you know, other kids might,” Cameron said. “We try to make a big purpose of coming down here and getting them out on the ice. Today, to meet Fin and old Canucks, new Canucks, that just takes it to a whole new level.”
While Lumme, Ronning, and McLean spent plenty of time signing autographs and greeting the adults on the ice or along the boards, the kids clung to Fin and to Santorelli.
The Canucks’ mascot had a long line of tykes waiting to shake his hand, take their picture with him, and receive their free tickets.
“The joke between the teachers was, they brought out the (Canucks) alumni for us and brought out Fin and Mike Santorelli for the kids,” said Cameron. “Those guys were my heroes and being able to hear John Ashbridge announce our school, my name, that was another hero of mine growing up.
“The entire group, it was quite an honour to meet and be with them.”
For the Canucks both new and old, it was a chance to give something back to the fanbase that has cheered them on, as well as a chance to relive one of the city’s greatest athletic memories – that ’94 Cup run that started with McLean’s overtime heroics, Pavel Bure’s breakaway winner to beat the Flames, the performances of Greg Adams and Trevor Linden, and (ultimately) a tragic and razor thin loss in seven games to Mark Messier and the New York Rangers in that year’s Final.
The ’94 group will be present at this Sunday’s game as well, with everyone form Adams to Geoff Courtnall and Dave Babych to Nathan Lafayette.
“It’s quite a nice feeling that people still appreciate what we did in ’94,” said McLean, after his skate. “It’s nice that we’re able to gather this 20 years later, and share some special memories with the fans.”
McLean came to Vancouver via a trade in 1987. He still lives in Vancouver, despite ending his career in Carolina, Florida, and on Broadway.
During the Canucks’ ’94 run, he had four shutouts and a save percentage of 2.29. He is best remember for a 52-save overtime win in Game 1 of the Finals, and his incredible save off Calgary’s Robert Reichel in Game 7 of round one, which kept the Canucks alive against the Flames in a game – and series – they would go on to win.
“The support that we had (in 1994) was incredible,” McLean said, on Vancouver’s fans. “The wagon got pretty full there and they supported us all the way, and they were great to us whenever we walked around town, really gave us that confidence and they were a big part at the games. They were loud. They gave they players and myself a nice little lift when we needed it, and it certainly goes a long way.”
Cliff Ronning still lives in Vancouver, too, and came to the Canucks during the 1991 season from St. Louis, brought west in a trade along with Geoff Courtnall, Sergio Momesso, and Robert Dirk.
“It’s nice to see all the players come back, you know, that we haven’t seen in a long time,” he said on Tuesday, noting that Lumme came all the way from Finland to be at Sunday’s game. “That’s what’s really fun, seeing those guys.
“It really is interesting how hockey really brings people together, and I think the game of hockey, with 50,000 people screaming, yelling’s going to be a fun day in Vancouver.
“I’m hoping everyone’s there and I know the ’94 team’s really excited about being there.”
Mike Santorelli is out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury and will be forced to miss Sunday’s Heritage Classic.
But the Burnaby kid was seven years old when the Canucks went on their run, and admits it was pretty special to have a skate with his idols.
“To be honest with you, it was extremely cool,” he said on Tuesday. “I was definitely a huge fan, growing up as a Vancouver Canucks fan, and it was cool seeing guys like Cliff and Kirk and Jyrki out here. I definitely grew up idolizing that team and it was great having those kids out here, too, that seemed enjoy it.
“I will be there (on Sunday) for sure. It’s a little hard because I can’t play, but I’m definitely going to enjoy the moment as much as I can.”