Pulling Out the Stops for Hockey Day

Ranj Pillai hadn’t spoken to his university buddy Sean Majumder in years.

Still, the Whitehorse councillor didn’t hesitate to phone the now-famous Canadian comedian. He was hoping Majumder would MC some of the Whitehorse events as part of Hockey Day in Canada (HDIC).

“He was really into it,” smiles Pillai. “But because of his schedule he was only available the Saturday, so it’s not happening.”

That call is an example of the effort Pillai has put into helping organize the Hockey Day event – and ensuring that Whitehorse would be named host city.

In December 2009, fellow councillor Dave Stockdale told Pillai that CBC executives were showing interest in Whitehorse.

Pillai immediately got to work.

“There’s a responsibility to do the best you can do for the municipality,” he explains.

With some council travel money and support from his colleagues, Pillai travelled to Stratford, Ontario for the 2010 Hockey Day festivities.

The trip was both for research and to buttress the Whitehorse bid.

“Seeing it firsthand makes you so proud to be Canadian,” says Pillai. “I really wanted people in Whitehorse and throughout the Yukon to have a chance to experience this.”

Following that trip it was Pillai’s turn to play tour guide to CBC brass as they pondered the merits of Whitehorse as a host locale.

“Within 15 minutes of their arrival we had them up in a helicopter,” says Pillai. “Aside from the amazing beauty of the city we wanted to show them all the outdoor rinks Whitehorse has. Only one other city in Canada has more rinks per capita!”

Pillai points to strong support from the city and territory as secrets to the successful bid.

“We had an opportunity to show them what support existed, the infrastructure and the people and their know-how,” explains Pillai enthusiastically.

“The helicopter ride was one of the turning points and that will be evident in the opening segment of this year’s Hockey Day in Canada,” he says.

With the games a little more than two weeks off, Pillai hasn’t slowed down in ensuring the event is the best it can be.

At any lead-up event – be it a press conference unveiling various musical acts, or conference calls with the likes of Ron MacLean or former NHLer Brad Marsh – Pillai is there.

But he’s all business when given credit.

“The return on investment is immense,” says Pillai, putting his best bureaucratic face forward. “We have had as much or more air time at a national level as we did during the Canada Winter Games, at only a fraction of the price.

“We’re not going to be leaving this situation with a deficit, and the legacy is going to be a financial positive for the Sport Yukon Kid’s Recreation Fund.”

Council responsibilities aside, Pillai can’t contain his inner hockey fan when talking about the sport or the expectations for next month’s festivities.

“Some very memorable moments in my life centre around the rink and the relationships I built through that,” he says. “That’s what this whole event is about.

“It’s about being Canadian growing up in the north and being proud of what you have and really looking at what makes us tick.”

On top of trying to get Majumder on board, Pillai also approached Rheostatics frontman Dave Bidini about putting on a music concert all about hockey.

The result is a music-and-film event at the Yukon Arts Centre February 10, featuring the likes of Sarah Harmer, Buck 65 and C.R. Avery. That means a huge segment of Yukon’s art community is also involved in the Hockey Day festivities.

Pillai can only smile when talking about how far things have come since that December day in 2009.

“Everybody has just comes to the table on this one,” says Pillai. “Sure, it’s been intense and will get more intense till we get to that day, but everybody has been smiling doing it.”

George Maratos is an avid sport fan who writes regularly for What’s Up Yukon

This article is provided by Liris Smith, a member of the Yukon Council of Physiotherapists. For more information on physiotherapy in Yukon and Canada, check out www.yukonphysiotherapy.org or www.physiotherapy.ca

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