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Kraft Hockeyville Comes at Right Time for Sylvan Lake

by Staff Writer / Arizona Coyotes

NEW YORK -- The Stanley Cup was in Sylvan Lake, Alberta for the second time in three summers when then-Los Angeles Kings forward Colin Fraser brought it to the small town between Calgary and Edmonton last month.

It will be back this week, and lots of NHL players will be joining it when Sylvan Lake becomes the setting for Kraft Hockeyville 2014. The four-day hockey festival starts Sunday and culminates Wednesday when the Calgary Flames and Arizona Coyotes square off in a preseason game at the Sylvan Lake Multiplex.

"It's more than just a game. That's the message we've been trying to get out," said Graham Parsons, a member of the town council and organizing committee for Sylvan Lake's contest campaign. "Kraft and the Hockeyville people have really built this up to be just a great event. It is four days of celebration. Given the size of our rink, the tickets we had available for people to win were in the hundreds. It is really about celebrating everything around the game."

The game between the Flames and Coyotes will take place at the Multiplex, but a big reason for why Sylvan Lake earned this hockey showcase is located next door. Sylvan Lake Arena was built in 1972, but in January the roof collapsed.

No one was injured (one person who was working inside the arena got outside before the full collapse), but the town was left without one of its important civic centers.

"We had a real tough winter. It was even more snow than usual," Parsons said. "The rink is 42 years old. It is a wood building. It was just an ordinary, small-town rink when it was built and we had about 1,200 people in the town. Now we're up over 15,000. We were planning on a new one anyway, but the roof just collapsed.

"What happened recently is the roof collapsed, but we had some guys who thought we should try for Kraft Hockeyville before, including [resident] Kevin Putnam. When the roof of the rink fell down, it was such a big part of our town. He got the idea to nominate us for Kraft Hockeyville, and it just took off like wildfire. Emotions were high. Everything was just going crazy. It was really a tough time, but we just picked ourselves up by our bootstraps and away we went."

Sylvan Lake beat out 15 other Canadian communities for the right to host Hockeyville. Along with the NHL preseason game, there will be youth clinics, officials clinics and alumni from both franchises taking part in the festivities. There will also be a viewing party of the game outside the Multiplex, and the town is expecting the crowd to number into the thousands.

Parsons wasn't born in Sylvan Lake, but he's been connected to its hockey history for four decades. A 1972 draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens, Parsons spent time in the International Hockey League and American Hockey League. A goaltender by trade, he was one of six founding members of the Sylvan Lake Summer Hockey School in 1975.

While it is a resort town and popular tourist destination in Alberta, Sylvan Lake is certainly a hockey community as well. Current players like Fraser and ex-NHLers alike have summer homes in the area, and this event will help the town show off its love for the sport to the rest of the country.

"The ride to being the contest winner just glued the town together," Parsons said. "It was community spirit like you've never seen in a town before. It all came in stages. When it came down to the top with us and Kingston, Nova Scotia, we had parades and a road hockey tournament. We had about 8,000 people here with big screen TVs and bands, and when [NHL Commissioner] Gary Bettman announced it, it was just bedlam. It was unbelievable."

Beyond the game, winning Kraft Hockeyville also means a prize of $100,000 to use for improvements and upgrades to local hockey facilities. Sylvan Lake doesn't just need improvements; it needs a new arena.

The Flames and Coyotes will see the old arena, fallen roof and all, when they're in Sylvan Lake on Wednesday. If some of them come back in future summers, they'll see the new one that Kraft Hockeyville helped make happen.

"The last impact is the community spirit," Parsons said. "We had plans for a new complex. We were going to start in the next couple of years. It was kind of fracturing the town because different people wanted different concepts and we were struggling with it. As soon as the roof collapsed and the Hockeyville campaign took off, everybody put their boots on and got their heads together and came up with a real nice concept for a community center. It is going to be good for a community of 15,000-16,000 people. It's going to include an area for active seniors, another surface that will just be for replacing what we have, a new curling club. It is just a real good center.

"We're hoping to start in the spring, so we're probably looking at 18 months before we have an ice surface, but it is tremendous. This whole experience has been tremendous for community spirit and proved critical for getting that complex off the ground."

Author: Corey Masisak | Staff Writer

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