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Fond memories for North Bay

by Brian Compton

It's amazing what can happen when a community unites and works together.

Just ask Chris Dawson.

A freelance television producer, Dawson came up with a crazy thought in February 2007. With a desire to express the love his small town of North Bay, Ontario, has for the game of hockey, why not enter the Kraft Hockeyville sweepstakes?

After receiving approval from Mayor Victor Fedeli, Dawson sent in a video he created that expressed why North Bay deserved to host the event. Not only did his community win, but it is still reaping the benefits one year later.

"It was my idea to put the video in," Dawson told "Some of these other videos that other communities did, they did all these gimmicks. All I did was tell a story. That was probably one of the benefits from my side because every hockey town has its politics. Hockeyville is all a voting thing. People in North Bay saw that it was the spirit of the game. It was all about the spirit of hockey, not politics. It was all for the good of the game."

It took the hard work of many people for North Bay to come out victorious. Brad Gavan – the director of advancement and alumni services at Canadore College – played a huge role in getting the message out to the more than 50,000 people who live in North Bay, asking the citizens to help bring the dream to fruition. North Bay wound up defeating Cornwall, Ontario, to host the event. Much like Salmon River, Nova Scotia, in 2006, the city of North Bay rallied together to win the competition.

"We ran it like an election," Gavan said. "We understood we had to beat bigger towns. We needed to rally the voters. We broke it up into high schools, elementary schools, different businesses … we had to get it out to the surrounding areas. We just worked it. The city got behind it. It was unbelievable."

For winning the competition, the city of North Bay was given $60,000 in prize money to update Memorial Gardens. In the first NHL game played on that sheet of ice in more than 30 years, the Atlanta Thrashers beat the New York Islanders in overtime, 4-3. More than 3,500 people packed the tiny facility to witness the special event.

North Bay used some of the prize money to put a new electronic message board in front of Memorial Gardens. After losing the Ontario Hockey League's North Bay Centennials in 2002, the hope now is that the city can regain a junior club in the near future, thanks to the upgrades the building received after winning the Hockeyville competition. In the past two years, the city has invested close to $2 million in upgrades and repairs to the arena.

"The $60,000 prize money afforded us the opportunity to purchase a new electronic marquee for the front of our building," said arena manager Cathy Seguin. "This marquee serves as the daily reminder and a lasting legacy of Hockeyville. It is being used to help promote events in the arena and around the city. By hosting two NHL teams, I believe we have proven that we still have what it takes to host a high caliber of hockey again someday."

Hockeyville provided thousands of North Bay's citizens with wonderful memories. The Stanley Cup was in town. North Bay native Steven Walkom was the referee for the main event. Local businesses saw a boom as thousands flocked to witness the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

"Being on CBC three or four times, just the recognition of North Bay and where North Bay is on the map and the beautiful surroundings we do have … that's a big thing and an economic impact," Gavan said. "I think just the stories that people will tell for years that we had Hockeyville here, that's important to people and to businesses."

Ultimately, North Bay won the event because everyone in the area was on board. The ability to work together and create an atmosphere that was suitable for an NHL game translated into three very special days that no one from the area will soon forget.

"To work with the NHL and Kraft people, it was awesome," Gavan said. "Our police in North Bay, they didn't charge anything for security. They got on board. It was just a really good thing for everyone. We did a lot of work. But we all worked well and got the job done. The NHL was amazing to work with."

One year later, the people of North Bay are still glowing. Without an NHL team in North Bay, there won't ever be a Stanley Cup championship parade in the city. But winning the Hockeyville competition was a close second.

"It's like a community Stanley Cup," said Dawson, who will be in Roberval, Quebec for this year's festival. "For a hockey event like this, every person who sat down and clicked a vote for North Bay was part of the victory. I always try to spin it off that way. It's the ultimate community sports championship."

Gavan concurred. After all the work that was put in, the communications guru was able to sit back and watch an NHL game in his backyard. He plans on sharing his stories with future family members many years down the road.

"It's the chance of a lifetime. They're going to really enjoy the time. It's a memory. They're probably never going to have an NHL team up there, so it's their Stanley Cup. When I'm 80, I'll probably tell the stories to my grandkids."

--Brad Gavan of 2007 Kraft Hockeyville winner North Bay, Ontario, on what Roberval, Quebec can expect

"I was able to sit down and relax with my friends and my family," Gavan said. "To see the hockey come to North Bay … it was awesome. To see fathers with their sons or daughters, walking around and seeing the smiles on their faces … that's why we did it. You do it for the win, but you also do it for the memories. I'm never going to win the Stanley Cup, but winning Hockeyville was North Bay's Stanley Cup. You can never take that away from us."

So what can the people of Roberval expect this weekend?

"It's the chance of a lifetime," Gavan said. "They're going to really enjoy the time. It's a memory. They're probably never going to have an NHL team up there, so it's their Stanley Cup. When I'm 80, I'll probably tell the stories to my grandkids."

And it was all made possible because a community put all differences aside and worked as one cohesive unit. It's amazing what submitting a video can translate into.

"That's what makes the competition so awesome – to see the community come together like that," Dawson said. "It was really, really overwhelming in regards to how the town came together for the event."


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