A Christmas Day tradition for Gary Fleury’s family and friends had hometown star as a guest.
Brandon-born Ryan White, who plays in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens, joined Fleury’s afternoon skate to play a game of shinny and sign autographs for the kids.
"It’s an opportunity that I don’t usually have (with a professional hockey schedule) but I’m glad I could come out, skate and play with some kids and have fun," White said while taking a short break from the ice.
The 24-year-old was on the ice with friends and family, including his dad, and had the opportunity to meet some fans.
"There’s some Habs fans here, and some Leafs fans who gave me a bit of guff, but it’s all in good fun, and that’s what it’s all about," he said.
White’s dad is a friend of Fleury, who has been renting out the ice at Westman Place in the Keystone Centre on Christmas Day for the past 10 years.
The rink is divided in half to have a family skate on one side, with the hockey game played on the other.
"It started out as a way to tire out the little ones," Fleury said.
He and his family started inviting friends, and the skate has grown every year by word of mouth.
"People come and go throughout the day, but I’d say we get around 50 people. There’s a few new faces here that I’ve never seen before. The way I see it, hockey and Canada go hand in hand, so it’s great to get people out on this ice," Fleury said.
The event is open to anyone, but Fleury said the best feeling is when kids come out who may not usually get the chance to skate on the arena’s ice.
"Me and my brothers all grew up playing hockey. But you know, there’s some kids who might, for one reason or another, not be able to play regular hockey," Fleury said.
"When they get to skate on the Keystone Centre ice — when they get to skate where the Brandon Wheat Kings skate and they can look up at the stands — and to them it’s like being at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, it’s unreal for them."
Fleury said he hopes to see even more new faces on the ice next year.