All Barry Wilson ever wanted was to see the arena he managed receive the upgrades it needed so the children in Stirling-Rawdon, Ontario, and its surrounding communities could have all the proper amenities in their rink.
The arena manager of the Stirling-Rawdon Recreation Centre for 25 years, Wilson succumbed to a stroke in 2011. A 40-year volunteer of the Ontario Minor Hockey Association, Wilson was a well-known figure by anyone who laced up skates in Stirling-Rawdon, including those who made their way to the NHL, players such as Rob Ray and Matt Cooke. In a village of roughly 1,800 people, 1,000 of them attended Wilson's funeral.
As a tribute, the community was determined to find a way to upgrade its facility. Enter Kraft Hockeyville.
One of the more popular competitions in Canada since it first began in 2006, Kraft Hockeyville provides communities with the opportunity to both upgrade their arena -- the winning town receives $100,000 from Kraft Canada -- and host an NHL preseason game. Stirling-Rawdon, which won the competition 2012, was unable to host a game that would have featured the Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets last fall due to the work stoppage.
"I think the game was the gravy," said Cindy Brandt, chairperson of Stirling's Hockeyville committee. "We didn't expect to have the game. When we started this whole Hockeyville experience, it was because of the loss of Barry Wilson, our arena manager. He wanted to do renovations at the arena. We just sought out to raise money and did our renovations and make that arena sustainable for the next 30 years."
After receiving nearly 4,000,000 votes in April of 2012, Stirling-Rawdon now has a sustainable facility. Thanks to $100,000 from Kraft, the community went right to work on renovating the Stirling Recreation Centre. The front of the building was extended another 10 feet out and 24 feet wide, allowing construction of wheelchair access and expanding of the dressing rooms, which features new toilets and showers. New mats have been placed around the rink. Dressing rooms for the girls have also been upgraded.
The arena is now officially open for the fall season.
There will be an NHL officials clinic Friday night, where aspiring referees from the community can learn from some of the best referees and linesmen in the sport. Roughly 30 kids are expected to attend. The two-hour clinic will be split between on-ice and classroom activities.
On Saturday, the Jets and Capitals will arrive and head to Yardmen Arena for morning skates. The Stanley Cup will return to Stirling-Rawdon for a second time in the afternoon, and two players from each team will hold a question and answer session with children at the Recreation Centre.
"That's going to be very exciting," Brandt said. "The kids will get to ask lots of questions, and I'm sure a lot of the kids are going to ask the players if they ever fought Rob Ray."
Two signups for tickets to Saturday's game were held last year, with youth hockey players and students in the town getting the first cracks. Those who signed up landed two tickets for the game and the remaining tickets will be handed out Friday night when the town throws a party to kick off the weekend's festivities.
"We really at the end of the day didn't expect to win Kraft Hockeyville and have $100,000 donated to our cause," Brandt told NHL.com. "We never in a million years expected to have an NHL hockey game. The Stanley Cup was a huge thrill when it rolled into town last year. And now having an NHL hockey game, that is just the icing on the cake."
And it will be a fitting end to a two-year journey the community embarked on to honor the man who gave it so much. Wilson's two daughters will be involved in the pre-game ceremonies Saturday night in what is primed to be a powerful tribute to their dad.
"I think you have to have a cause, and you have to have a cause that people believe in," Brandt said. "You have to stick to that and people will eventually start to buy into it. It's not an easy process. It is a ton of work. We were a committee of 14 and we worked diligently day and night, but we had volunteers all across this community stepping up to the plate to help us out.
"I think there's something about being a small town and people coming together that motivates you to keep going. There's a ton of excitement here."