What started out as somewhat of a fairy-tale idea has evolved into arguably the most popular and exciting competition in all of Canada.
This weekend, a small community that only 20,000 people call home will become the center of the hockey universe. For a few days, the town of Terrace, British Columbia, is Kraft Hockeyville.
"It's amazing country," said Jim Kozak, a Senior Manager of Corporate Promotions at Kraft Canada. "The mountains are just around you. Hopefully the weather's on our side. It's going to be a great event."
The festivities kick off on Saturday with jamborees, street festivals, community dinners and hockey games between local teams. The Stanley Cup will arrive in the small town on Sunday, when fans can have their picture taken with the most prestigious trophy in all of sports. NHL alumni Cliff Ronning, Dave Babych, Bryan Trottier
and Ken Morrow
will also be in town to run youth clinics.
Then, on Monday, the Vancouver Canucks
will travel north to kick off the NHL preseason as they play the New York Islanders
at the Terrace Sportsplex -- an arena that holds roughly 1,000 people.
"To have the Vancouver Canucks
going up to Terrace, I think is a dream come true for a lot of people up there," Kozak told NHL.com. "The fact is they don't get down to Vancouver to see a game. It's a two-hour flight north from Vancouver, or a 16- to 18-hour drive. We're going to fulfill a lot of people's dreams."
The Kraft Hockeyville competition began in 2006, when Salmon River, Nova Scotia, hosted the event after finishing ahead of 450 other entries to earn the award. Three years later, Terrace had to find a way to become Kraft Hockeyville as one of more than 7,000 entries. In 2008, Roberval, Que. -- which hosted the Montreal Canadiens
and Buffalo Sabres
-- was one of 1,100 entries.
"It continues to grow year over year," Kozak said. "Our votes went from 7.3 million in 2008 to about 9.3 million in 2009. The whole program continues to grow tremendously year over year."
This year marks the second time the Islanders will participate in the Kraft Hockeyville game. The Isles faced the Atlanta Thrashers
in 2007, when the town of North Bay, Ont., won the competition. The NHL's participation in Kraft Hockeyville plays a major role in the event's success.
"To have the Vancouver Canucks
going up to Terrace, I think is a dream come true for a lot of people up there. The fact is they don't get down to Vancouver to see a game. It's a two-hour flight north from Vancouver, or a 16- to 18-hour drive. We're going to fulfill a lot of people's dreams." -- Jim Kozak, Senior Manager of Corporate Promotions at Kraft Canada
"It's been fantastic," Kozak said of Kraft's partnership with the League. "The NHL has shown their commitment and put in the effort and resources behind the program and the event itself. We have first-class people on the event side working on putting this tremendous event together for Terrace. Both from a marketing and a partnership side, but also from an events side, the NHL has stepped up in 2009 to make this an even better program than it was in 2008."
Terrace -- which received $100,000 from Kraft to upgrade its arena -- was one of five finalists this year, edging out Harbour Grace, Nfld.; Woolwich Township, Ont.; Thetford Mines, Que.; and Humboldt, Sask. Each town submitted an essay and a photo to explain why its community deserved to be Kraft Hockeyville 2009. In the end, Terrace came away with the award, garnering 1,923,456 votes. Humboldt was the runner-up with 1,810,100.
"We had a lot of passion from two western communities this year," Kozak said. "It came down between Terrace and Humboldt. At the end of the day, Terrace outvoted them. They jumped right on board. They got the British Columbian Premier (Gordon Campbell) involved and rallying the whole province behind Terrace's bid. They did a fantastic job, and we're thrilled to be going to northern British Columbia for Kraft Hockeyville 2009."
While Humboldt came up a tad short, it was rewarded for its efforts.
"We sweetened the pot a little bit (from last year)," Kozak said. "For all of the runner-ups, we increased the award from $20,000 to $25,000. There was a little bit more incentive to put the effort in and finish in the top five. We're hoping those two little elements help people participate and we obviously encourage them to get involved."
Contact Brian Compton at: email@example.com.