VANCOUVER -- Rhonda Catt is trying to hold it together, offering unnecessary apologies as her voice cracks and she fights back tears talking about Kraft Hockeyville 2016 in Canada bringing the NHL to her hometown of Lumby, British Columbia this weekend.
For Catt, the event is more than just a celebration of hockey's grass roots and the way it brought together this small town in the British Columbia Interior. It is a celebration of the life for her husband, Peter, whose sudden death in November first shook, then rallied a community of 1,731 people, inspiring the drive that led to Lumby winning Kraft Hockeyville.
"For me it just keeps Peter alive," Rhonda said. "I want to be able to talk about him and I want to be reminded of him and remind others of him. I don't want him to be forgotten.
"He was a good man, he was great with kids and he loved the sport and because there was so much positive energy trying to drive this Hockeyville win on behalf of him, it makes me feel good because I know other people want to remember him like that too."
Peter Catt grew up playing hockey in Pat Duke Memorial Arena, part of a family his best friend Cole Young said "has been involved in hockey in Lumby since they started making ice." His father, Ron, who died in 2015, played into his 80s. Active and fit, Peter played shinny on the morning of November 2, but left early complaining of heartburn. He awoke that night asking for Rolaids, but went back to sleep and never woke up. He had a heart attack in his sleep in the early hours of November 3. He was 46.
Devastated by the loss of her high school sweetheart, Rhonda didn't know what to say when asked if her two young sons, Jace and Linden, wanted to play hockey the following weekend on teams their father had helped coach. So she asked them. The boys wanted to play.
Jace, who is 10, was in his last year of Atom. He scored five goals in his game, then joined older brother Linden, now 13, for his pee-wee game, a special call-up arranged by Young, who had coached the team with help from Peter as an assistant. The rest of the team stayed off the ice for a couple minutes while the brothers took a couple warm-up laps on their own.
"All the mothers are crying," Rhonda said.
Those emotions spilled onto the bench when the Catt brothers took the opening faceoff side-by-side and finished their opening shift with Jace scoring on a cross-ice pass from Linden.
"We couldn't have written a better script," Young said. "Our entire bench was crying and hugging and high fiving."
Up in the stands, amid more tears and hugs, something bigger was happening.
"That right there gave me a kick in the butt to say 'you have to get it together because as much as you are mourning your husband, look at what your kids are out here doing,'" Rhonda said. "One of the coaches said it was like they had an angel on their shoulder because they played their games with so much respect for their dad. It was mind blowing. As an adult you are losing it every day and it's 'holy crap my kids are just … wow.'"
That moment became a rallying point for the rest of Lumby to win the Kraft Hockeyville bid.
"It gave us a different spirit, a bit of hope," said Angie Clowry, who is on the local organizing committee. "It made all of us aware we should grab onto this, take all our grief and put it into a good space."
Through social media and word of mouth, Clowry and her team got the townspeople and former Lumby residents involved. Whether it was relatives in Australia, friends traveling in Peru, local kids in preschool, families watching hockey on the couch or friends attending NHL games in other cities, they all posted photos of themselves in hockey jerseys and used the hashtag #VoteLumbyforKraftHockeyville2016 to raise awareness and collect votes. More than 300 people hit the Pat Duke Memorial Arena ice on the Family Day holiday, while another 150 packed the stands and concourse. Older residents who had never used a computer in their life stopped by makeshift offices established at the Lumby Visitors Information Center so Clowry could teach them how to get online and cast a vote for their community to win.
"It was a pretty powerful dynamic," Clowry said. "All born out of grief."
Where a past attempt fell short, this time they rallied to get almost 50 percent of nominations in British Columbia and 11 percent of nominations in Canada. On April 2, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced Lumby had won the 10th annual Kraft Hockeyville 2016, including $100,000 for arena upgrades at Pat Duke Memorial and a preseason game between the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings this Sunday.
Young made sure Peter had a real presence at the events this weekend. He put a small logo in memory of Catt, a friend and teammate since childhood, under the ice that was repainted with the Kraft Hockeyville logos.
Along with the initials "PC," the logo features crossed hockey sticks over the emblem of his favorite NHL team, the Detroit Red Wings, and a "99," the number of his favorite NASCAR driver, Carl Edwards. Young also had the logo placed on the gate to the player's bench that Peter used to run while helping coach their sons.
As the weekend approaches, memories of the man who helped inspire Kraft Hockeyville in Lumby flood back. As hard as it is to talk about Peter without pausing to collect their emotions, Rhonda and Cole Young wouldn't have it any other way.
"I look at his boys every day and Rhonda and I cry every time about it, about everything he is missing," Young said. "But honestly I can't even picture getting through the year without having Hockeyville as a high point."