Williams Lake hockey fans Jake Hilton (left) and Clay Palmantier give the thumbs up during a tailgate party outside the Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic in Winnipeg last weekend. Palmantier found a littered beer can in the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex parking lot

Williams Lake hockey fans Jake Hilton (left) and Clay Palmantier give the thumbs up during a tailgate party outside the Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic in Winnipeg last weekend. Palmantier found a littered beer can in the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex parking lot

Tossed beer can leads to Heritage Classic

Picking up a littered empty beer can in the arena parking lot on the way to practice netted Clay Palmantier the trip of a lifetime.

Picking up a littered empty beer can in the arena parking lot on the way to practice netted Clay Palmantier the trip of a lifetime.

Just back into town at 3 a.m. Tuesday morning, Palmantier said he’s still reeling after being awarded VIP tickets for him and a friend to attend the Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic spectacle last weekend.

“It’s been a whirlwind. This is just something you can’t get over — I’m still having fun looking at the photos. We had such a blast, it was amazing,” said Palmantier, an avid hockey fan, hockey dad and hockey coach for the Williams Lake Minor Hockey Association.

Palmantier’s story of how he ended up with the winning can is quite an incredible tale itself and something that caught the attention of national media at the event.

“Somebody’s going to be kicking themselves in the (butt) for throwing out that can,” said Palmantier, who always helps his sons Robert, 9, and Mike 5, collect cans to raise extra money.

Two Friday’s ago, Palmantier picked up an unusual-looking empty can in the parking lot at the Cariboo Memorial Complex on his way to hockey practice with his son and threw it in the back of his pickup truck.

“I looked at it because I thought the Heritage Classic logo was interesting, and it even felt different,” said Palmantier, who admired the can but didn’t read it before carrying on with his evening.

After hockey practice Palmantier, a fan of Molson Canadian, picked up a case of beer and headed home, throwing the littered beer can in the kids’ recycling container and putting his new beer in the fridge.

But it was while Palmantier was walking his cardboard beer box to the recycling container that he put two and two together — seeing the winning beer can depicted on the case promoting a contest for the Heritage Classic and noting it looked exactly like the one Palmantier had just recycled.

“I ran to the recycling and found the can and it said right on it that it was the winning can. I couldn’t believe it.”

That was Friday, Oct. 14, but the contest supposedly expired Oct. 7.

Palmantier called the phone number anyway and left a message, and woke up at 6 a.m. Monday morning to the phone ringing and Molson representatives telling him they had extended the contest seven days and he was in fact the winner.

“And that’s how it all snowballed.”

Palmantier only had hours to confirm he was going to the Heritage Classic and who he was going with since the event was three provinces and only four days away. He said his wife, Kami, suggested he take a true hockey fan with him so he called fellow hockey dad and coach Jake Hilton, who had less than an hour to ask his employer, Gibraltar Mine, for the time off and commit to the trip.

“We’re both hockey fans. We’re both hockey dads and we both coach hockey. We are hockey families. It was perfect. It’s been a pretty wild weekend. It wasn’t just going to the hockey game — it was so much more. It was the trip of a lifetime.”

Palmantier said the trip included VIP access to the alumni game Saturday at the Investors Group Field in Winnipeg where hockey greats like Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Jarri Kurri took on Winnipeg Jets legends Bob Essensa, Dale Hawerchuk and Teemu Selanne, who Palmantier and Hilton later mingled with.

“What impressed me most is (Selanne) didn’t rush anyone. He had time for everyone and even asked us if our kids played hockey. He was just a really super nice guy.”

The two also took in numerous private functions and Sunday’s matchup between the current Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers, which ended with the Oilers shutting out the Jets 3-0.

Palmantier said the Heritage Classic was a weekend he won’t soon forget.

“Our ribs were sore from laughing so much.”

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