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Devils are PEI bound for Kraft Hockeyville game

by Amanda Stein @AmandaCStein / newjerseydevils.com

When the Devils hit the road for preseason, they usually keep it local -- New York, Washington, D.C., Brooklyn.

It's not every day they end up in a small town in Prince Edward Island, Canada.

That's where they will be on Monday night, however, taking on the Ottawa Senators. As part of 2017 Kraft Hockeyville Canada, the town of O'Leary, P.E.I., is the grand prize winner, having nominated their town and O'Leary Community Sports Centre, which is in need of refurbishment. Communities from all over Canada nominated their cities, towns and local rinks. Now is O'Leary's moment after their big win was announced back in April.

2017 finally is Jo-Ann Wallace and her organizing committee's year.

"The community is so thankful and appreciative of the way the province has supported us," she said. "Not much else happens in O'Leary" other than the love for hockey. All the hard work will come to fruition on Monday, when Wallace says the weather is expected to be ideal for all Hockeyville activities.

As winners, the community receives $100,000 in arena upgrades and the opportunity to host a preseason NHL game -- that's what brings the Devils to the island.

Being named Kraft Hockeyville winners was a labor of love for Wallace. She has been working for several years to bring the event to her community. Now that hard work will benefit a rink that operates differently from most.

We really do believe we have that community spirit of hockey. If you look back through our history, it's just a constant.

"Our rink has had its trouble," said Wallace. "It's not municipality owned. A not-for-profit owns it. It is truly community hockey."

Hosting the game between the Devils and Senators is fitting. NHL hockey is coming to their little island, where the hockey-obsessed community can enjoy it in person.

"We really do believe we have that community spirit of hockey," Wallace said. "If you look back through our history, it's just a constant." 

This wasn't a first shot at trying to showcase their community and rink, as O'Leary fell short of the grand prize in 2006, making the Top 10.

"We came really close!" Wallace said. "We felt so strongly every year we had to do this." 

Now the entire town can celebrate together.

"We are really proud," she said. "We've had a lot of big highs. We've been really busy the last few days, the excitement has really been big and you can feel it. When you drive through town the field is a big tent, we've had pep rallies. 2,000 teachers and students will be in attendance."

In that tented field will be a jamboree of sorts, to further add to the joy of the weekend. Leading into the game, "you are going to expect all kinds of things. It's a big weekend planned. Expect a ton of excitement. On Saturday, we have full activities inside the rink including an initiation jamboree, skills competitions and a public community skate where everyone can wear their favorite jerseys and skate together," said Wallace.

Along with the members of the Devils' and Senators' organizations, alumni will also be on hand to spend time with fans. Retired NHL player Colin White, who won two Stanley Cups with the New Jersey Devils, will be in attendance, as will retired goalie Pascal Leclaire, who played for the Ottawa Senators. There will also be a red carpet arrival for players ahead of Monday's game.

If hockey is a huge part of O'Leary's identity, then so is the food they love. That will also be showcased over the weekend with a "Taste of Our Town" event.

"You're going to love this! We have award winning muscles and oysters, lobster potato salad ... all kinds of really delicious things are happening here," said Wallace.

It's been a long road for the town of O'Leary, and 2017 is finally their time.

"We are really proud. It's a big deal for our province and town," Wallace said. "The community is so thankful and appreciative of the way the province has supported us."

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