The idea was simple: take the features of Hockey Day in Canada and incorporate them into a weekly 30-minute version on Sunday nights. Thus Hometown Hockey was unveiled. Now in its third season, the show has covered all 10 provinces and Whitehorse, Yukon.
The stories are about hockey but they really are about Canada. I would pick watching the Hometown Hockey and After Hours programs over most NHL games.
I wanted to experience Hometown Hockey in person. I don't travel too much in Canada in the winter because, well, it's cold. Windsor, Ontario is a city I've gone to know pretty well from my film festival travels. With a November date, and only being 480 km (300 miles) and a round-trip bus ride away.
The Windsor festival was along the Detroit River just north of Caesars casino. The quick access to downtown meant I didn't need a car while in Windsor.
The tents and booths form a shape between a circle and an oval. The area is very compact: you could walk across the length of the festival in a few minutes.
The main stage was to my right as I walked in. They use the main stage for the concerts and the cheering finale. The center had a street rink fenced off so kids could play street hockey.
If you are facing the festival with the stage behind you, the broadcast stage is close by on your right. This is where Ron MacLean and Tara Slone broadcast the show. There are large screens on either side of the studio so the crowd can watch the whole show.
If you are looking for a single word to sum up the Hometown Hockey options, that word would be interactive. Pretend you are in the Situation Room where referee calls are upheld or reversed. Take a VR dip into the World Cup of Hockey. Play video games. Solve video puzzles of famous hockey moments.
Autograph sessions with local heroes are a part of Hometown Hockey. You might even see a trophy or two. The Stanley Cup and Memorial Cup were there in Windsor.
Dr. Oetker provided pizza samples. McDonald's handed out free coffee. You could get hot chocolate in a different tent. Anything more substantial would have to be found off-site.
Each festival takes place over 2 days. The Saturday portion takes up the afternoon. The Sunday portion runs in the afternoon through the conclusion of the postgame.
If you want to check out the festival for its interactive moments, you can likely cover everything in about 2 hours. Special features and, of course, the live broadcast may entice you to stay much longer.
Can't speak for the size of the crowds in other Hometown Hockey stops. TV has a way of making a small crowd look much larger. The Windsor crowd was about 100-125. The overhead camera captures the crowd from behind. If you were a kid and didn't get on camera, you weren't trying that hard. I can tell you an adult can get on TV: my face did appear a few times during the telecast. Being a kid increased your odds of getting on TV.
A producer outside the booth helps the crowd adjust to the 7-second delay and encourages them to cheer at times where you don't think you need to cheer. They use that footage during the telecast though not live.
The camera time extends beyond the 30-minute show to the pregame and intermissions. I found getting on TV more difficult in the intermissions even though there were fewer people. The crowd got more aggressive, though like polite Canadians, there wasn't an issue.
Surprisingly with the angles, being further back helped your TV chances. The studio set is above the ground, so perspective and a protractor will help.
You didn't have to freeze during the game. Fans could watch the game from a heated tent.
Watching from Windsor
Unlike most of the Hometown Hockey stops, the arena is literally in sight of the festival. If you come up Ouellette Avenue in downtown Windsor, Joe Louis Arena is to the left across the river. The festival is east of that mark, just south of Caesars casino.
The weather turned dramatically colder days before the festival. The cold wind that Sunday came flowing from the United States (north to south) giving the festival a true winter flair.
For those wanting an indoors break or a real meal in a restaurant, downtown Windsor was a very close option. Your humble narrator only attended on Sunday, missing the brief window for the Stanley Cup on Saturday. The Memorial Cup was there both days. Sundays in Windsor offer fewer options than during the week.
If you have kids who love hockey, you will be happy you took them. Even without kids, you could spend 2-3 hours outside the telecast. Most of the stops don't have TV stations in their markets, so the whole TV element is rather cool.
photos credit: me