Hockey broadcaster Jim Hughson, left, a South Surrey resident, interviews Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green at the 2019 Nite of Champions gala. (Tom Zillich photo)
The Nite of Champions is moving to an online format for 2021 – but the roster of speakers is as deep as ever.
This year’s event, which is hosted by the local chapter of KidSport BC and is scheduled for Saturday, March 9 at 7 p.m., will include a bevy of speakers with National Hockey League ties – hall-of-fame defenceman Scott Neidermayer; former Vancouver Canuck – and current Detroit Red Wing – Troy Stecher; Montreal Canadiens captain and Sicamous, B.C. native Shea Weber; and Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green.
Green was the keynote speaker at the 2019 Nite of Champions event. Weber, meanwhile, played his 1,000th NHL game Tuesday night against the Canucks.
Ronnie Paterson, the president of the Surrey/White Rock chapter of KidSport BC, also noted that there will be a “strong South Surrey fastpitch influence” to this year’s proceedings, with former Canadian national women’s team star Melanie Matthews set to appear, in addition to current national team member Sara Groenewegen.
Matthews – an Earl Marriott Secondary grad who was inducted into the Softball Canada Hall of Fame in 2019 – is one of the top hitters in Canadian women’s softball history; she was a key member of the Canadian squad that finished fourth at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
Groenewegen, meanwhile, is a former White Rock Renegade who will be one of Canada’s top pitchers at the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, should that event get the green light amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Country musician Chad Brownlee – who was a Vancouver Canucks draft pick in 2003 before turning to a career in music – will also return to the gala lineup. Brownlee has been a featured guest at a number of Nite of Champions events dating back to 2014.
And while the format may be different than previous years – the event has traditionally been held at South Surrey’s Hazelmere Golf and Country Club – one thing that will remain the same is the host: Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster and South Surrey resident Jim Hughson, who will serve as the online MC.
The event won’t be streamed live in the traditional sense – each speaker will be pre-recorded ahead of time, Paterson said.
An online auction – replacing the usual on-site silent auction – will also be part of this year’s event. The online auction opens Feb. 25 and wraps up at 9 p.m. on March 9.
In previous years, event organizers have been able to draw at least one A-list guest from the world of sports – previous galas have been headlined by Trevor Linden and longtime NHL executive Brian Burke, among others – but the virtual nature of this year’s event, in which attendance at Hazelmere is not required, has no doubt helped make this year’s lineup stronger than ever.
Since it’s first Nite of Champions event in 2014, the gala – which is the local chapter’s chief fundraising activity – has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for youth sports; the 2019 event alone raised more than $110,000. KidSport helps cover sports registration costs for young athletes whose families could not otherwise afford to pay.
“Every dollar raised by the KidSport Surrey White Rock chapter stays in our community as we believe in the power of sport to make our communities stronger,” reads a statement on the event’s official website.