Playing street hockey while growing up in Victoria, forward Adam Cracknell imagined scoring a lot of game-winning goals for the Vancouver Canucks one day.
On Monday, his dream came to fruition.
Wearing a Canucks jersey for the first time and playing in front of family and friends in his hometown as part of Kraft Hockeyville, Cracknell scored the only goal 1:39 into 3-on-3 overtime to lead the Canucks to a 1-0 preseason victory against the San Jose Sharks at Q Centre.
With his picture hanging from a minor hockey wall of fame in the concourse at the other end of the arena and an extra Canucks skater on the ice for a delayed penalty, Cracknell walked into the high slot and beat Sharks goalie Aaron Dellcleanly over the blocker.
"I had a lot of time and picked a corner," he said. "I wasn't passing it up. Not here. Not now."
It was a fitting ending to three days celebrating the spirit of hockey in small towns.
"Just to be here and part of the moment and have all my friends and family, guys I grew up playing hockey with, able to come to the game and they are huge Canucks fans, so to do that in front of them is huge because they have supported me my whole career," Cracknell said.
Cracknell, who played his minor and junior B hockey nearby, is used to hearing his mom whistle after a goal at Q Centre. But with a standing room only crowd of more than 2,800 people coming to their feet to celebrate, it was a little tougher to find his parents.
"Usually I can hear my mom whistling but not today, there was too much noise," he said.
A lot of it was coming from the Canucks bench.
"As soon as he walked over the top of the circles and fired it, I said, 'this will be pretty cool if it goes in,'" said center Brandon Sutter, who also played his first game in a Canucks uniform after a summer trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins. "I'm sure it's a good experience for him coming home. Not many guys get to play a NHL game in their hometown, so it was pretty cool."
The game may not have featured a lot of goals, but it did produce some lasting memories.
Some of the nicer moments involved Larry Orr, the longtime equipment manager of the Junior B Peninsula Panthers and a friend, father figure and skate sharpener to several generations of minor hockey players growing up in North Saanich, including brothers Jamie Benn and Jordie Benn of the Dallas Stars and Sharks defensemen Matt Irwin.
Orr, whose volunteer work and free equipment exchange program embody the community spirit of Kraft Hockeyville, received a standing ovation before dropping the puck for a ceremonial faceoff, and a shout-out from Don Cherry during Coach's Corner in the first intermission.
"I've heard more stories about him; 5:30 in the morning, kids drop into his garage and pick up equipment, he does all this stuff for them," Cherry said. "What an honor to meet him."
Jason Fletcher, who wrote the nomination and rallied the community behind it, accepted the Kraft Hockeyville trophy in a pre-game ceremony that included NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. And Fletcher, whose volunteer work builds on the legacy of people like Orr, was back in the spotlight in the second intermission accepting a check for $100,000 from Kraft that will go towards needed arena renovations at the Panorama Recreation Centre in North Saanich.
It was a great way to wrap up a weekend of community celebrations that included a touching hospital visit and on-ice instruction by NHL alumni Doug Bodger and Jyrki Lumme, an inspiring visit by the Stanley Cup to a parking lot party in North Saanich, and a valuable refereeing clinic by the NHL officiating crew, including Victoria-area natives Lonnie Cameron and Trent Knorr.
"This event as a whole was a lot of fun," Sharks forward Tommy Wingels said. "We all come from rinks similar to this so to play a game here at this point in our careers is special. You see the fans and the kids who hope to be in our position one day and at this point, it's kind of like we'd like to go back and be in their position for a couple days."
Game day began with thousands of fans lining the street to greet the players coming into the rink, and ended with them on their feet again cheering a home-grown player in Cracknell.
"To have Cracknell score was a great way to finish the game," said Canucks assistant coach Perry Pearn, who ran the bench while coach Willie Desjardins recovers from hip surgery. "If you're going to have a guy be a hero in overtime, you'd like it to be the hometown guy."
The only downside for the Canucks was seeing forward Chris Higgins leave the game early after blocking a shot by Sharks defensemen Brandon Dillon off the inside of his right leg.
"We'll have to take him home and have it looked at," Pearn said. "Obviously it was enough to take him out of the game."
Jacob Markstrom made 10 saves before giving way midway through the game to Richard Bachman, who also made 10 saves. But for Markstrom, the lasting memory was the crowd.
"It's so much fun to come to a place where people really care about hockey and bring them a game," he said. "The atmosphere gets better and it's a little more personal in a smaller rink."
Despite the loss, Sharks coach Peter DeBoer was grateful to participate in the Kraft Hockeyville experience.
"It was sloppy, but overall I was happy and real happy with the experience and glad we were a part of it," he said. "I'm really glad we were invited to be a part of it. Nothing but a positive experience across the board, other than I would have liked to win that game in overtime."