Donny Parenteau lifts curtain on 2023 Esso Cup with opening concert

Nathan Reiter/Daily Herald. Donny Parenteau and band play in the parking lot of the Art Hauser Centre during the 2023 Esso Cup opening event.

The stage is set, the curtain is up, and the lights are ready to shine bright as the 2023 Esso Cup kicked off with an opening event Saturday afternoon in the parking lot of the Art Hauser Centre.

Esso Cup host committee chair Robin Wildey says it’s special to see the event finally beginning after more than two years of cancellations and postponements from the initial 2020 date.

“It’s emotional. It’s been awesome. Seeing the teams here and things starting to come through is really hitting home. It’s awesome to see.”

Kicking off the festivities was a concert in the parking lot of the Art Hauser Centre performed by local singer and songwriter Donny Parenteau.

Wildey says Parenteau did a tremendous job of providing a great atmosphere to begin the tournament.

“Donny’s a legend. He knows his music. We want to showcase Canadian talent but we’re also showcasing local talent. I don’t think there’s anybody better than Donny Parenteau rocking the crowd for two hours singing, playing and getting the players all hyped up. That positive energy is going to be right through the entire event.”

When fans enter the rink on Sunday for the opening day of games, there will be several differences from a typical setup at the Art Hauser Centre.

Wildey says the changes really bring that championship feeling to the Art Hauser.

“You can tell it’s a national championship right off the bat. You walk in the rink and the Raiders or Bears bring a certain excitement. This is a different kind of exciting energy. Even though there’s nobody in there right now, you can just feel it coming off the ice. We want people to come in and feed off it. It’s going to be a great week of hockey. We have got the best teams here. We got best on best.”

Several teams arrived in Prince Albert as the opening event was taking place as the Northern Selects and Stoney Creek Sabres made appearances on stage just minutes after driving into the city limits of Hockeytown North.

Wildey says the teams that checked out the Art Hauser Centre and the facilities provided were very impressed.

“Seeing the ice for the first time hit home for them as well. This is not a normal thing, the ice is different, the stands are different, there are signs everywhere. They got their own dressing rooms, and it is hitting home for them as well.”

The 2023 Esso Cup begins at 12 p.m. on Sunday afternoon when the West region champion Regina Avana Rebels take on the Quebec region champion Étoiles de Laurentides-Lanaudière.

The Prince Albert Northern Bears begin Esso Cup play at 7 p.m. Sunday evening against the Atlantic champion Northern Selects.