Stanley Cup-winning NHL defenceman Willie Mitchell signs autographs and poses for pictures with Ashley Barill

Stanley Cup-winning NHL defenceman Willie Mitchell signs autographs and poses for pictures with Ashley Barill

VIDEO: Nanaimo scores with Hometown Hockey event

NANAIMO – Thousands of people crowd into Maffeo Sutton Park for nationwide broadcast.

Nanaimo was the star of the Rogers Hometown Hockey broadcast Sunday as hosts Ron MacLean and Tara Slone talked up the Harbour City and its hospitality to a nationwide audience.

The show broadcast stories and images live and taped from Nanaimo throughout a doubleheader NHL game Sunday afternoon through the evening.

Prior to the broadcast, MacLean and Slone were welcomed to the city by elected officials and representatives from Snuneymuxw First Nation. Slone was moved to tears when presented with a totem pole, carved by Noel Brown. Footage from an event Friday on Newcastle Island showed Slone talking with Brown about the process and slicing a sliver of wood from the pole, which Brown said now contained a piece of her spirit because of her contribution, albeit small, to the carving.

“Nanaimo, you’ve filled our hearts,” she said.

Nanaimo Coun. Bill Bestwick thanked the Hometown Hockey crew for bringing the show to Nanaimo and said the stories told help bring families together around Canada’s national pastime.

The event attracted thousands of people to Maffeo Sutton Park, which featured activities such as an outdoor skating rink, zipline over Swy-a-lana Lagoon, ball hockey on the water and fan experiences, including video games and autograph signings.

Willie Mitchell, a two-time Stanley Cup-winning defenceman for the L.A. Kings, signed autographs and participated in intermission discussions during the broadcast. Mitchell said the Nanaimo show was special to him because of his personal connection to the city – his grandfather, Les, scored the championship-winning goal for the Nanaimo Clippers in 1945. He said Les Mitchell was the last person to skate on the ice at the Civic Arena before it was torn down.

“That really filled my soul,” Willie Mitchell said. “I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me and said, ‘your grandfather was such a great man,’ as far as helping out people in the community. I had no idea about that until this weekend, so it’s been really incredible for me that way.”

He said hockey is part of Canadian culture, but the Hometown Hockey event is more about getting kids involved in what they’re good at.

“I’m a small-town Island guy and I happened to be good at this craft, so hopefully for the kids, whatever they’re doing, they just believe and put their minds to it. If you do that, then you can accomplish it. Maybe that’s the take home from this,” Mitchell said.