NANAIMO — International hockey took centre stage at Frank Crane Arena on Wednesday night.
The Czech Republic beat Slovakia 2-1 in a shootout in a World Junior Hockey Championship exhibition game.
The game was sold out and the night had a great atmosphere from the welcoming drum line outside, to the crowd starting up the wave in the second period.
The action on the ice didn't disappoint either, culminating in a Jakub Pour goal for the Czechs in what was a very entertaining shootout.
Highlights from the Czech Republic vs Slovakia Dec 19 in Nanaimo:
Both the Czech Republic and Slovakia are holding their training camps here so they've been in the city since last week.
But this week's hockey game has actually been four years in the making.
Back in 2016 a group was put together through Tourism Nanaimo to look at ways to bring more sports tourism to the city.
It was around that time that Vancouver and Victoria were awarded the 2019 World Junior's.
So Nanaimo's Sports Tourism advisory committee reached out to Hockey Canada to see if Nanaimo could host a training camp for one of the competing countries.
There was some back and forth before finally it was announced in the late summer that Nanaimo would host the Czech Republic.
Before too long Hockey Canada reached out to see if the Harbour City could accommodate two teams.
With multiple ice sheets, and amenities, and the co-operation of other stakeholders like Nanaimo Minor Hockey and the Nanaimo Buccaneers it was deemed the city could indeed host a second team and that's when Slovakia's camp was confirmed.
The Czech Republic and Slovakia practice ahead of Wednesday's World Junior exhibition game:
The organizing committee is headed up by Trish Smith and includes only seven people from the Nanaimo Hospitality Association, the City of Nanaimo, and the Nanaimo Clippers.
Once it was announced that the Czech Republic and Slovakia would be playing an exhibition game at Frank Crane Arena, it sold out in about an hour.
Organizer Dan Brady says the committee was blown away by the response from the community.
"We thought it would be a strong sell but we never thought in our wildest dreams it would sell out in a day. It was crazy. We probably could have sold it out three times over," Brady said.
The quick sellout was even more impressive because Canada was playing the Swiss in Victoria the same night, and the Alberni Valley Bulldogs also had a home game against Kazakhstan
It's too early to say what the impact of the two camps and the game will be but it certainly showed Nanaimo is a city with a passion for hockey.
Not only that, local sports fans have sold out Frank Crane Arena twice in the last four months for the President's Cup lacrosse tournament and now this international exhibition game.
There was a time when the arena was jammed for junior hockey on a regular basis, but you have to go back to 2004-2005 (the year of the NHL lockout).
The last major hockey event at Frank Crane Arena was the 2013 Western Canada Cup, which was hosted by the Clippers – but that doesn't exist anymore.
What could the next major hockey event be?
There's the RBC Cup Junior A National Championship, there's international events like the, World Junior A Challenge and the World Under 17 Hockey Challenge.
Nanaimo hasn't seen a major women's hockey event, but a Canada versus USA game would almost certainly capture the imagination of local fans.
Don't expect to hear talk of the Western Hockey League again for a while but that discussion will likely come back in a few years, as the WHL has long been intrigued by Nanaimo's location and large population.
With the success of the World Junior game and the President's Cup it is hard to imagine their won't be another large scale sporting event planned for Frank Crane Arena in the next couple of years – the interest from Nanaimo sports fans certainly appears to be there.
On twitter: @danmarshall77
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