"It's sunk in and it will be nice when everything is really starting to happen, because even right now it's all such a blur," said Barry Forth, co-chairman of the Dundas Kraft Hockeyville bid. "To say that it's been a lot of work I think is the understatement of the year. I thought it was a lot of work from November to April for our community effort, and then now this and all the planning, the execution of all that's going to be happening. It's a big chore, but I love doing it. It's a lot of fun, no complaints from anybody."
Dundas, population 24,700 and part of the city of Hamilton since 2001, is the home of the J.L. Grightmire Arena, known to the locals as the Market Street Arena. On Sept. 28, the rink will host the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators in preseason action. The arena also received $100,000 in prize money from Kraft Canada, which has already been put to good use.
Hockeyville comes to Dundas (Karen Robillard)
It was a facelift the arena desperately needed. A report in 2008 recommended that the building be reviewed in 2012 to determine whether it should be closed.
"There was a very big backlash when that report came out," Forth said. "There were petitions started and everyone was up in arms and this certainly sealed the deal that they won't be able to close it anytime soon.
"The great part is that we'll have complaints right across the country as everybody's going to know that the J.L. Grightmire Arena was named for Hockeyville. You can't take that away from us anymore."
Hamilton city councilor Russ Powers, who represents Dundas, echoed this statement. "We're going to use that as leverage money in order to make some changes. Some enhancements to the J.L. Grightmire Arena will be certainly in time for the game, some of them will be ones going forward. We also want to build a legacy, where we can provide a nest egg that will ensure that the J.L. Grightmire Arena will never be closed down."
The Dundas community aims to raise more than $500,000 for that nest egg. Future projects include a second floor above the concession stand, new lighting and an outdoor sign with a message board announcing upcoming events.
For councilman Powers it is especially important that this rink is kept alive. While he didn't play hockey there as a kid, he coached his own son at Market Street and most importantly it's where he met his late wife, Linda.
"The J.L. Grightmire Market Street Arena was the destination on Friday night, usually more often than not that was a home game for the Dundas Merchants intermediate A team," Powers reminisced. "My late wife had a passion for hockey and in fact she says 'The new boy in town that I took a fancy to, he was at the game.' I asked her who that was, and she says, 'It's you, stupid.' That's actually where we first met each other and the rest is history."
So when it came down to the wire to save their rink, the community of Dundas came together to pursue the Kraft Hockeyville crown.
"I'm not surprised we won it, because one of the things about our community and it's probably similar to a lot of small communities, is we truly have a sense of community," Powers said. "This really became a quest for everyone for Dundas. People who had absolutely no interest in hockey whatsoever did it because the reputation of Dundas was at stake."
Forth noted that the Kraft Hockeyville bid even helped strengthen the community ties.
"We're part of the city of Hamilton, we pay our taxes to the city of Hamilton, but people in Dundas, we still feel Dundas is Dundas. When it was amalgamated it kind of lost its identity a little bit and this has kind of brought it back. This is a Dundas thing."
While the highlight of Kraft Hockeyville will be having the Senators and the Sabres facing off in their very own rink, the implications will go right to the heart of the community.
"I don't think anyone really realizes all the stuff that's going to happen and how many people it's going to touch when everything happens with the school visits and hospital visits, officials clinic and the on-ice clinic with Dan Craig and his staff from the NHL," Powers said. "Everybody thinks of the $100,000 and the NHL game, but when you start adding in all these others things and the visits to the schools and the hospital, it's pretty neat to be part of something like that."
Downtown Dundas (Courtesy: Barry Forth)
"The NHLPA is donating 30 sets of brand new hockey equipment. We're going to be able to assist the surrounding communities with that," Forth said. "There's a couple of communities within the city of Hamilton that are definitely lower-income areas that struggle more than the people of Dundas do to be able to afford hockey equipment for the kids, so we're going to lend our support and share the wealth a little bit, which is nice, nice to be able to do that."
Residents of Hamilton who didn't live in Dundas were also eligible to enter in a public ticket lottery for the game. Those who weren't lucky enough to get a ticket can still catch the game on a giant high-definition screen outside the rink, welcome players as they arrive
for the morning skate and participate in Sunday's Stanley Cup Jamboree.
With the days melting away and the ticket winners having been announced, excitement in Dundas has reached an all-time high.
"I can't even imagine what Dundas is going to be like on the weekend and the day of the game," Powers said.
The Councilman will be rooting for the Senators, the only Canadian team, since his favorite team, the Montreal Canadiens will not be playing. But as Buffalo is just over an hour away from Dundas, many of the ticketholders will be cheering for the Sabres.
"I think in a game like this, when it really comes down to it, I think if the Sabres score, everybody will go crazy and if the Senators score all the same people will go crazy," Forth said. "That's my hope. I think it will be like that. I think everybody will just be excited to be there and watch it and see it unfold."
Follow Magalie Lafrenière on Twitter at: @NHLmagalie