Now, the city and its residents are about to become the focus of attention for hockey fans across the country as CBC takes its annual Hockey Day in Canada show to Nelson on Saturday. Located in southeastern B.C., roughly equidistant from Vancouver and Calgary, Nelson still boasts the home where the Patricks lived for a few years.
The home of the brothers, who are credited with helping to shape modern-day hockey, will have a plaque marking their contribution this weekend.
The city also produced NHL players Danny Gare, Pat Price, Greg Adams and Mike Laughton.
Laughton and Price live in Nelson and will be part of the daylong celebration – this year’s theme is a salute to volunteers – but Gare and Adams have commitments and are unable to attend.
“I would have loved to be there,” Gare said in a telephone interview from Columbus, where he is a colour analyst for the NHL’s Blue Jackets.
Gare, 52, who remains one of the Buffalo Sabres most beloved players, played a pivotal role in getting Hockey Day in Canada to his hometown, says Nelson Mayor John Dooley.
“They (CBC) were looking at several communities throughout British Columbia and Danny Gare is from Nelson,” said Dooley, who said this event easily tops the excitement in Nelson when the movie Roxanne, starring Steve Martin, was filmed there several years ago.
“I think Danny had a little bit of a hand in saying, ‘Go take a look.’ “
Gare had a more modest version.
He said he has known HNIC executive producer Joel Darling for many years.
Hockey Day host Ron MacLean had also been to Nelson before for a hockey scholarship function in honour of Gare’s father Ernie, who played many seasons with the Nelson Maple Leafs of the senior circuit and now-defunct Western International Hockey League.
“He (Darling) called me and told me he was going to look at some towns and he wanted to ask me about Nelson,” said Gare.
“I said it was a great city and I said it would be a super place if that’s what you’re looking for.”
Gare will make a video appearance from a studio in Columbus.
“I’ve got a Nelson Maple Leafs jersey that I’m going to wear,” he said.
Darling said one reason that Hockey Day has become so popular in a short time is that it is not only about hockey, but also about people, community and volunteerism.
“The thing that’s happened with HDIC in the past few years is that it’s become more than just the 13½ hours that we broadcast,” he said.
“We’ve tried to make it more than that. We have school visits on Thursday and we have clinics.”
The lengthy Hockey Day broadcast begins at noon ET with two hours devoted to celebrating the game and listening to stories from across the country.
At 2 p.m. the network broadcasts the Canadiens at Senators game, followed by a newscast. The Canucks-Maple Leafs game from Toronto follows at 4 p.m. and a third NHL game goes at 7 p.m. – the Oilers visiting Calgary.
The celebrity-studded day includes not only MacLean and the blustery Don Cherry, but also Cassie Campbell, Dick Irvin and hockey commentator Scott Morrison.
Former Toronto Maple Leafs star Wendel Clark will help run some hockey clinics.
Former NHLer Ryan Walter will be part of some festivities and the Stanley Cup will also be on display.
The citizens of Nelson are thrilled, said Darling.
“Any time you have people like Wendel Clark and Cassie Campbell and Ron MacLean and Don Cherry, people you normally see on television, to have them in the city like that for a few days, the people are pretty excited.”
While he may be less well known than the other NHLers, Laughton set the stage by being the first native Nelsonite to make it to the NHL.
Laughton played four NHL seasons, starting in 1967 with the Oakland Seals, later becoming the California Golden Seals.
Darling said he was going through his basement recently and found a 1971 Golden Seals yearbook with Laughton’s picture in it.
“I gave it to Ron MacLean,” he said.
Laughton, who turns 63 next month, is ecstatic about the broadcast.
“This is the pinnacle of everything,” said Laughton, who works at a downtown furniture store and will be the MC at a banquet Friday night.
“It’s being involved again with some of the people. Don Cherry was coaching when I was playing and Dick Irvin was in the broadcast booth when I played.”
Laughton said he has never met Cherry and Irvin but is looking forward to the opportunity.
“You never really meet them when you’re playing and it’s a nice thing to be involved.”
Dooley obviously is thrilled with the exposure for his city, but he and others recognize that the Hockey Day theme is paramount.
“It’s actually pretty cool that the whole theme of the Hockey Day is around the volunteers and their value,” he said. “Small communities wouldn’t function without that.”
The annual salute to hockey has been held previously in Stephenville, N.L (2006); Shaunavon, Sask. (2004); Iqualiut, Nunavut (2003); Windsor, N.S. (2002); Red Deer (2001); and Toronto (2000).