The town of Calumet, Michigan, is so synonymous with hockey, it boasts the oldest indoor ice arena in North American and is considered the birthplace of professional hockey.
Built in 1913, Calumet Colosseum has withstood a lot in its more than 100 years of existence but received much-needed upgrades as the winner of Kraft Hockeyville USA 2019.
Hundreds of communities entered, but Calumet was selected and awarded $150,000 in rink upgrades and will receive $10,000 worth of new equipment from the NHLPA Goals & Dreams fund in addition to hosting a preseason NHL game between the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings on Thursday (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
"It's phenomenal. Everybody's talking about Hockeyville and this rink," rink manager Mark Peters said. "Everyone in this community has a smile on their face. We're really excited for this. Everybody's going to be able to see the changes in the rink. The sheet of ice is incredible right now."
Calumet Colosseum now has an entirely new ice plant (refrigeration system and dehumidifier), a new heating system, sound system, and refurbished locker rooms, among other upgrades.
"I enjoyed hockey, I played hockey and then working with the kids, seeing the smiles on the kids' faces really makes it worthwhile," Peters said. "And with these upgrades it's really unbelievable because it's something we could have never accomplished as a community; the cost was out of our reach."
In 2016, Marquette, Michigan, located about 100 miles from Calumet in the upper peninsula, was crowned Hockeyville USA winner. Blues center Ryan O'Reilly, who played in that game in 2016 as a member of the Buffalo Sabres, is looking forward to another memorable experience.
Video: CAR@BUF: Marquette holds Kraft Hockeyville USA parade
"It reminds me a lot of my hometown (Clinton, Ontario)," O'Reilly said. "It's all these small communities that are huge hockey communities. Hockey's kind of a way of life there and it's cool that they get a game in. It allows us to see a part of the country that we never really get a chance to. It's really cool.
"I think it's a great job they do. It helps promote the game and I know as a kid, if that happened around me, it would be pretty amazing to see NHL guys come there to play. It's a great thing they put on."
Calumet has a population of approximately 700 -- which happens to be the capacity of Calumet Colosseum -- and is located in "Copper Country," where the first professional ice hockey league was formed. The International Professional Hockey League lasted for three seasons from 1904-07.
"Calumet is a small town that perfectly embodies the enthusiasm and spirit of the Kraft Hockeyville program," said Magen Hanrahan, vice president of media and creative services for Kraft Heinz. "We've seen this community rally together all year and this week, concluding with the game at Calumet Colosseum, as a much-deserved toast to this year's most passionate hockey community."
Although each Kraft Hockeyville USA winner is unique, Peters said he and the local organizing committee talked to previous winning communities to get a feel for what they should expect.
"A couple of guys reached out to Marquette and (Kraft Hockeyville USA 2018 winner) Clinton (New York) asking different questions," Peters said. "We submitted an entry four years ago just to get a feel of it and then we decided that we had to go for a run again this year. We thought we had a good chance and thank our lucky stars we won it."
Prior to the game Thursday, there will be plenty of festivities. The Stanley Cup will be on hand Monday during a community celebration with activities for kids and adults alike; there will be a community skate at the rink as well as an exhibition game between the Calumet Wolverines and the Portage Lake Pioneers on Tuesday, and a fundraising gala on Wednesday. There will also be a viewing party Thursday for those unable to attend the game.
"Bringing an NHL preseason game to a town like Calumet is something special," said NBC Sports analyst Jeremy Roenick, who will once again be at Kraft Hockeyville USA. "The players are just excited as the fans from this hockey-centric town in Michigan to celebrate their shared love of the sport, and this week will be a testament to that."
It's sure to be a great experience for the fans and players alike.
"It's a little different, it's a change from what you're normally used to," O'Reilly said. "Everything feels a little smaller. The stands and it's a little more confined. Everyone's on top of you, but it is cool. It's a cool experience any time you lace them up there. It's another game to play to tune yourself up, but it is cool. It's cool to be in these smaller rinks you grew up playing in. It has that same feel."
NHL.com independent correspondent Louie Korac contributed to this report