CLOVERDALE – Several members of the Vancouver Canucks surprised some young hockey players with a special visit on Thursday afternoon (Jan. 19).
At Cloverdale Arena, seven of the NHLers skated with members of the H4 Wildcats, who play for the Cloverdale Minor Hockey Association.
Sportsnet TV crews filmed the visit for a feature that aired on Sunday (Jan. 22) as part of its Rogers Hometown Hockey broadcast.
**Update: CLICK HERE to watch the Hometown Hockey feature, called "Owen Hopkins and Chris Tanev."
The event was organized with the help of Amanda Hopkins, the mother of a child who played on the team until last fall, when he became too sick with cancer to continue.
Owen Hopkins, 8, played his final game of the season with the Wildcats back in October, when he was diagnosed with Burkitts-like lymphoma and spent the next several weeks in hospital.
“Hockey was a really big part of our lives,” Amanda told the Now on Friday, “so when Owen got sick, I wrote (the Canucks) and told them that he’s really missing hockey and that, you know, could you send him a photo or video to make him feel better. But they’ve gone above and beyond our wildest dreams, doing things for him.”
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PICTURED: Canucks player Ben Hutton on the bench with Owen Hopkins, 8, at Cloverdale Arena on Thursday. (Photo: Facebook.com/Canucks)
A few weeks ago, a Canucks rep contacted Amanda with the idea of having Sportsnet feature Owen and the Wildcats. An ice time was arranged and the players were told they’d be on TV.
“It was a great idea,” Amanda said, “because the team has been an amazing support system for Owen, coming to visit him, sending cards, and the whole association has been fabulous, too. So I thought yeah, what a great way to say thank-you to his teammates and have this cool treat for them, have them be on TV.
“But we didn’t know the Canucks players would be there, and so many of them. That was a complete surprise until right before they hit the ice.”
On Thursday, Owen and the other kids got ready in their dressing room, met the TV crew and played some hockey trivia.
What happened next was pretty special.
“Then someone said, ‘OK, we’re ready to go,’ the dressing room door opens and in walk all these Canucks players, and everybody’s jaws just dropped,” Amanda explained.
“At that point, I knew the Canucks were coming, I’d been told, but I didn’t know how many or who was going to be there, so to see them walk in there, it was amazing, just so special. The looks on the kids’ faces was priceless, and the coach and parents, too. The coach didn’t know. The (Canucks) were waiting in another dressing room, and they snuck into the building beforehand. It was a huge surprise. To get that opportunity, that just doesn’t happen every day.”
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PICTURED: The Wildcats of Cloverdale with Canucks players at Cloverdale Arena on Thursday. (Photo: Facebook.com/Canucks)
Canucks in attendance were captain Henrik Sedin, Chris Tanev, Ben Hutton, Jacob Markstrom, Sven Baertschi, Brendan Gaunce and Alex Biega. Fin the mascot was there, too.
CLICK HERE to see more photos on the Canucks' Facebook page.
Owen, who had major surgery last week and has struggled with chemo sessions that haven’t gone well, wasn’t able to dress in his hockey gear and hit the ice with everyone else, but he was there on the bench watching and having fun with the rest of his pals.
“It wasn’t a quick meet-and-greet – the Canucks players really spent some quality time with the kids, for close to an hour, ran some drills with them, played some shinny and signed autographs,” Amanda recalled.
“It was just so awesome, and I’m so happy for all those kids because they deserve it. It’s a way to show the country how much we appreciate our hockey family, how good these kids and families are.”
CLICK HERE to read more about Owen's battle with cancer on a GoFundMe page launched last fall.