The driving force behind Stirling-Rawdon, Ontario, winning this year's Kraft Hockeyville competition sadly won't be around when the small town takes part in a community-wide celebration this weekend.
Barry Wilson, who served as the arena manager at the Stirling District Recreation Centre for 25 years, died in May 2011 at the age of 60. Before his death, he worked diligently to upgrade and repair the rink that was built in 1976, but scraping together funding for such a large task proved nearly impossible.
But by winning the Kraft Hockeyville competition in March, the rink received $100,000 in upgrade money that will be put to use during an alumni/celebrity game Sunday in front of a packed house of about 3,000 fans.
"I would say that was a pretty big catalyst," Stirling-Rawdon Mayor Rodney Cooney said of Wilson's death inspiring the town to make a push to win the competition. "A lot of people that have played minor hockey in the community just didn't want to let that die. We had the funeral in the arena, and it was just a packed house. That was sort of a catalyst and we thought, ‘We'll give her a shot' and the worst that could happen was we could have a community celebration. From there, it just took off and got a life of its own."
Wilson, who moved to Stirling in 1977 and played hockey in the arena as a youth, wasn't just an arena manager; he endeared himself to the community by immersing himself in other roles. He served as a referee and put together a women's hockey team in the 1970s, and helped start a women's baseball team and senior baseball league.
"He was just involved in everything in the community," Cooney said. "He was one of those guys that treated everything like his own and made it right. They always said that about the arena -- he treated it like his own. He didn't watch the clock; if it needed to be done, it was done. He just lived there. He knew every kid that went through that minor-hockey organization. He was just a good guy."
The festivities will start Sunday morning with two hours of skating clinics at the recreation centre run by Elizabeth Manley, who won a silver medal in figure skating at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.
The highlight of the early part of the day will be a parade through town with the Stanley Cup as the main attraction. The Cup will be marched down Front Street and to the recreation centre, which covers about a mile in the town with a population of about 2,000.
"We had a parade last year from one end of town up to the arena and it was still starting to roll out," Rooney said of the short distance the parade will cover.
Once the Cup arrives at the arena, it will be on display for three hours along with live music and other activities. Former NHL players Brad Marsh, Laurie Boschman, Mike Gaul and Jamie Allison will sign autographs for two hours as well.
Cooney, who coached atom hockey for eight years, will be an assistant coach on one of the teams but is excited for all the events that will include clinics at the recreation centre Monday and Tuesday.
"It's about a lot more than hockey once you get started," said Cooney, who also makes a living as a farmer. "It becomes a community thing about everything."
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