CLINTON, N.Y. -- Pierre McGuire has covered numerous events as an NBC Sports hockey commentator, including the Stanley Cup Playoffs, NHL All-Star Games and Winter Classic games, but he said one of his favorites is the annual Kraft Hockeyville USA game.
In its fourth year in the United States, Kraft Hockeyville, which started in Canada in 2006, has awarded more than 80 communities more than $4 million in rink upgrades. Clinton Arena, located about 50 miles east of Syracuse, New York, was the 2018 winner.
"It's not just hockey; it's what it does for the community after the hockey is gone," McGuire said. "They fix the rink, people take a lot of pride in it. It's a huge effort to actually win Kraft Hockeyville. There are so many positive things to come out of it, but I think more than anything else, it galvanizes a community.
"I'll never forget when Doc (Emrick) and I walked into Johnstown, Pennsylvania, (Kraft Hockeyville USA winner in 2015) the reaction the people had. Then Marquette, Michigan (in 2016) was tremendous."
The Rostraver Ice Garden in Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania, was the winning community in 2017.
Clinton was named a top four finalist this year and won the title in an online vote. It received $150,000 for upgrades for Clinton Arena, which will host a preseason game between the Buffalo Sabres and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
"I think both parties, the NHL and Kraft, should be saluted," McGuire said. "The NHL has been phenomenal with making the game in non-traditional markets, making it easier for underprivileged kids to play. It's not a cheap sport, we all know that. On all fronts, I am proud to be part of the NHL community just because of the give back. Kraft really does care about the community that they are involved in."
Video: Clinton, NY welcomes Kraft Hockeyville USA
McGuire said the Sabres, who finished last in the NHL last season, are much improved and can make the Stanley Cup Playoffs, something they haven't done since 2010-11.
"The one thing that is exciting about Buffalo is they should be one of the bigger turnaround stories this year," he said. "I really think they have a chance to have a very good season. Rasmus Dahlin (No. 1 pick in 2018 NHL Draft) is going to be must-see TV. Jack Eichel should have a banner season for them. Alex Nylander has had a phenomenal preseason and they're really excited about him. There's a lot of things to like about the Sabres. I think they can be a playoff team this year."
The Blue Jackets have qualified for the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, and McGuire said he expects them to be a contender again.
"(Coach) John Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets are for real," he said. "They are really deep on defense, they are very good up front. Pierre-Luc Dubois has a very good chance to be one of the superstar players in the League. I think they are going to be one of the more difficult teams in the Eastern Conference to play against."
A fire in 1949 ruined Clinton Arena, which was rebuilt from scratch six years later and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. The venue still has many of its original fixtures, but the prize money will go toward improvements on the roof, locker room and seating.
The runner-up, Brandon Valley in Brandon, South Dakota, will receive $30,000 to use toward rink upgrades, and George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum in Shreveport, Louisiana, and Memorial Sports Center in Middlebury, Vermont, each will receive $10,000.