On a sun-drenched Sunday afternoon, Sydney’s Centre 200 buzzed with infectious excitement, playing host to its inaugural NHL Exhibition game in decades. A teeming crowd of nearly five thousand enthusiasts, their passion palpable, lined the stands.
Claiming the spotlight was no stranger to the local audience – Sydney’s very own Drake Batherson, a former Cape Breton Eagle. Batherson basked in the glory of the afternoon, notching a remarkable four-pointer, propelling Ottawa to its stupendous victory over the Florida Panthers. Sharing the triumphant moment with Batherson were nearly fifty of his closest friends and family.
“I reveled in playing for this audience. For many of them, it was their first real look at me since my junior league days. An extraordinary milestone, not just for my family, but for Sydney as well,” reflected a content Batherson.
Adding to the sporting fervor were players and families of the Cape Breton Blizzard, who had clinched the Hockeyville contest for their home turf. “One could liken it to one grand celebration, attended by the individuals who’ve supported us thus far and are now accompanying us in this journey,” shared an ecstatic Christina Lamey, marking her tenure as President of the Cape Breton Female Blizzard Association.
However, by Monday, the narrative would shift towards a more pressing concern for the sporting world – women in sports, and the gaping void where diversity should be.
Dean Smith, a renowned voice in Hockey Nova Scotia, and the diversity and inclusion chair hit on these touch-points during the Future of Hockey Forum staged in Membertou First Nation. “Every soul should have an opportunity to engage in hockey, considered Canada’s winter sport, irrespective of race or socioeconomic background,” asserted Smith, a deserved recipient of the Willie O’Ree Award.
Attempting to throw a spotlight on the issue was Andrew Ference, the acclaimed Stanley Cup Champion and current NHL’s Director of Youth Strategy. Ference expressed his concerns, “Recognising the demographics of the sport and its current representation, the community isn’t accurately portrayed. We are noticeably lacking the diversity that our communities inherently possess.”
Lamey, on the other hand, assured fans that a brighter future awaits Cape Breton hockey. “We’re looking into hosting a PWHL game here, along with major women’s tournaments like the IIHF. I believe we’re setting the stage for the progressive evolution and exciting growth of the game,” she optimistically concluded.