Kraft Hockeyville Canada, now in its 11th year, awards one winning community in Canada a once-in-a-lifetime experience for hockey fans. This year, O'Leary, Prince Edward Island, and the O'Leary Community Sports Centre were selected as the winner after an online vote. The rink will receive $150,000 in arena upgrades, and there will be festivities, player appearances and even a visit from the Stanley Cup prior to the Ottawa Senators hosting the New Jersey Devils in a nationally televised preseason game at Credit Union Place in Summerside, PEI, on Monday (6 p.m. ET, NHLN, SN1). NHL.com Director of Editorial Shawn Roarke is in Prince Edward Island to provide all the sights, sounds, highlights and news leading up to the game:
Former Devils defenseman White has memories of O'Leary
As former Devils defenseman Colin White drove north from his summer home in Nova Scotia toward O'Leary for an appearance at Kraft Hockeyville Canada, he had plenty of time to think about the last time he was in this small town.
He didn't have to think hard.
"I knew exactly the last time I was in O'Leary, that's for sure," White said, sitting in a cramped dressing room at the O'Leary Community Sports Centre on Saturday.
He was speaking of the 1993 Irving Oil Bantam Challenge Cup, a five-team tournament for Atlantic Canada hockey supremacy. He was there with a loaded Scotsburn Dairy team from New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. One team each from New Brunswick and Newfoundland, and two teams from Prince Edward Island -- Charlottetown and O'Leary -- were also in the tournament.
White's team reached the final but lost in triple overtime to the New Brunswick team, from Moncton.
"It was a great time in my life then, it was as far as you could go in bantam," White, 39, said after taking part in several skills clinics with O'Leary youth players. "Three guys from our team went on to the NHL and they were great buddies of mine and still are."
White, the Devils alumni ambassador this weekend, played 797 NHL games over 12 NHL seasons from 2000 to 2012 -- 11 with the Devils and one with the San Jose Sharks. He won the Stanley Cup twice with the Devils (2000, 2003).
Forward Jon Sim played 469 NHL games with the Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators, Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, Florida Panthers, Atlanta Thrashers and New York Islanders, winning the Cup with Dallas in 1999. And another bantam teammate, defenseman Derrick Walser, played 91 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
White wasn't the only one recalling the 1993 event Saturday. Bill MacKendrick, a member of the organizing committee that brought Hockeyville to O'Leary, was also part of the committee for that tournament.
"I remember that game very well," MacKendrick said. "It was televised locally through the region through the Atlantic Satellite Network, a CTV affiliate. They broadcasted throughout Atlantic Canada and probably had to pre-empt two hours of programming because of the length of the game. It was great hockey."
Kids take ice as Hockeyville celebration begins
The ice surface at O'Leary Community Sports Centre, installed one month earlier than usual, was crammed with young players clad in red or green jerseys, stumbling and striding to score goals.
About 60 children between 4 and 6 years old took part in the Initiation Jamboree, the first of several events in O'Leary on Saturday, when the town began its celebration of winning 2017 Kraft Hockeyville Canada.
There will be more events at the rink on Sunday, as well as a celebration with the Stanley Cup nearby. The festivities will end with the Devils-Senators game Monday.
For the three-hour session Saturday, the rink was split in half and then into thirds as several teams took turns playing each other in informal games. No score was kept and some teams didn't have goaltenders; but that wasn't the point on Saturday.
The point was to celebrate the sport and the community that made the Hockeyville victory possible.
"It's a want and a need to play the game in this community," said Bobby Harris, who spent the morning watching his son, Maddeo, 6, play for one of the teams wearing red jerseys. "It's definitely important to us."
Bobby, 45, played hockey in O'Leary, just as his Maddeo, a forward, does now. A goaltender, he played minor hockey here and then left to play Junior A nearby, only to return to return as a member of the O'Leary Maroons Senior A team for a couple of years.
"I used to live at this rink," he said, smiling. "I got away from it for a while, but now I am back again with the kids."
Nobody really gets away from the rink for long in O'Leary, it seems. It is where people come not only to watch hockey, but to catch up with neighbors.
Video: Kraft Hockeyville weekend arrives in O'Leary
Saturday was a homecoming for many. Seemingly anyone who ever had anything to do with the rink stopped in at some point to see the excitement or catch up with old acquaintances.
After the Jamboree, other age groups held skills competitions, including fastest-skater and shooting contests.
Later in the afternoon, former Devils defenseman Colin White, New Jersey's alumni ambassador for the weekend, took the ice and helped with the skills competitions. He returned to the ice for a skate that was open to the community.
O'Leary director of recreation Jeff Ellsworth helped run the skills competitions. He played hockey in town as a kid and later coached, so he knows how important this event was to the current crop of young players.
"All the kids have been talking about it for a long time," Ellsworth said. "Then, that was topped by the look on their faces when Colin White stepped on the ice. He was a little intimidating at the start for the kids, but he was great with them and down-to-earth.
"Today is huge, it's lifetime memories. The kids who are out here participating in a mock NHL skills competition, they are going to talk about this when they are 40, 50, 60 years old. It's lifetime memories that are being made this weekend and that is invaluable to the community."