VANCOUVER -- Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland wasn't surprised by all the buzz surrounding Kraft Hockeyville 2016 in Canada when he went home this summer.
Holland was born and raised in Vernon, British Columbia, where the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings will play a preseason game at Kal Tire Place on Sunday as part of the celebrations, and spent a lot of time as a kid in nearby Lumby, the small town that won Kraft Hockeyville. He is well-versed in the area's hockey history and knows the passion that comes with it.
"When I was 16 or 17 years old, I played in a hockey league on Sunday nights with a lot of players that were in their 30s, and they would always talk about the great history of hockey in the area," said Holland, a former goalie who played one season of tier-2 junior hockey in Vernon before being drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1975. "So I am certainly very familiar with the passion and history of hockey in the Okanagan, specifically Vernon and Lumby."
Holland, who played four NHL games with the Detroit Red Wings and Hartford Whalers over his nine-year pro playing career before moving on to management and winning the Stanley Cup three times in Detroit, has fond memories of the B.C. interior and family ties that run through it. He has relatives who play minor hockey in Vernon and Lumby, which are a 25-minute drive apart.
It's a drive Holland remembers well, one he used to make with his family most Sundays after church, passing through Lumby, a town of 1,731 residents, on the way to visit his parents' family in nearby Mable Lake. Many still are in the area, and some still play in Lumby's Pat Duke Memorial Arena, which will receive $100,000 in renovations as a result of winning Kraft Hockeyville.
"There are lots of Hollands, lots of cousins, still there," said Holland, who bought a place on the lake in Vernon in 1997 and goes back to the area every summer. "Lots of people are really excited to have Kraft Hockeyville there. It's great for the community, and I think it is going to be a fabulous couple of days with lots of energy, lots of emotion and lots of pride."
Lumby's hockey history includes the Lumby Flying Frenchman, a senior league team that played against teams like the Penticton Vees, who won the World Championships in 1955, and the Lumby Fighting Saints, who played three seasons in a now-defunct junior league. Though Lumby has yet to produce an NHL player, there have been eight, including Holland, who made it from nearby Vernon, and they have fond memories of playing at Pat Duke Memorial Arena in Lumby.
"Some of the best ice you'll probably ever skate on," said Jerred Smithson, 37, who played 606 NHL games over 14 seasons with the Los Angeles Kings, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs. "I remember from an early age the ice being hard and fast. It was your typical small-town rink, small locker rooms and a great atmosphere."
Smithson, Aaron Volpatti and Eric Godard each came back to live in Vernon after his career ended, and they are looking forward to returning to the little rink in Lumby this weekend to take part in coaching clinics and other events as part of the Kraft Hockeyville celebrations.
"I remember playing in Pat Duke and I remember Lumby always had a competitive team," said Godard, 36, who played his minor hockey in Vernon before a 13-year career that included 335 NHL games with the New York Islanders, Calgary Flames and Pittsburgh Penguins, and a Stanley Cup win with Pittsburgh in 2009. "We'd go there and get our butts whooped quite often."
That wasn't Godard's only memory of playing in Pat Duke Memorial Arena.
"That was the rink with a tractor Zamboni," Godard said with a laugh. "We were talking about it last night and one of our friends wouldn't believe us, but yeah, they had a tractor as a Zamboni, and all the fans and parents would be right up against the glass watching you play."
The "tractor Zamboni" was replaced years ago, but the spirit at the rink remains. So too does the excitement for Kraft Hockeyville that Holland felt when he was in Vernon this summer.
"There's a ton of buzz," said Volpatti, 31, who played 114 NHL games over six seasons with the Vancouver Canucks and Washington Capitals before retiring early because of a neck injury. "Whether it's at a barbecue or at the arena, everyone is talking about it."
Godard senses the same level of anticipation with the Oilers and Kings coming to town.
"Everyone is super excited about it," Godard said. "From kids to the parents, everyone wants to see the NHL in their backyard, so it's really nice and everyone is looking forward to it."