MARQUETTE, Mich. -- As the winner of Kraft Hockeyville USA 2016, Marquette, Michigan, received $150,000 in arena upgrades and a chance to host a nationally televised NHL preseason game at Lakeview Arena between the Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN).
Events took place in the city throughout the weekend leading up to the game, among them a parade through the town that included local businesses and hockey players from all levels. There also were two important people present from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the winner of the inaugural Kraft Hockeyville USA contest last season, who officially handed the Kraft Hockeyville USA title to the people of Marquette.
The Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 at Cambria County War Memorial Arena in Johnstown on Sept. 29, 2015, and Kraft Hockeyville USA's impact has been seen in the community over the past year.
"We've had great momentum," said Chris Glessner, Johnstown Warriors president of youth hockey and a member of the local organizing committee for the event last year. "The youth hockey program that I run, our enrollment is up about 20 percent. Our mites program usually fills up around September and this year filled up by June. It was completely packed and I think that was directly related to Hockeyville.
"We definitely had an uptick. I think the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup helped too. And this year our junior team, the Johnstown Tomahawk, are off to their best start ever. So we still have a ton of momentum carrying over from last year."
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Glessner and his wife, Missy, who were a big part of Kraft Hockeyville USA last season, were invited by the NHL to attend the festivities in Marquette, which included being in the parade and attending the game Tuesday.
"You can't say enough about the NHL and Kraft; they get it," Glessner said. "They understand that this is the future of the game. If you get the kids excited about it and seeing their heroes on their ice rink, then they want to be out there with them and they will have memories that last a lifetime and that makes them be fans of the sport and play the sport."
Glessner said several communities reached out to him for help and advice prior to the winner being announced in April.
"We had some organizations reach out to us for ideas, especially when they got to the top 10, on how we marketed it and how we got the word out to everybody," he said. "And then the NHL reached out to us right after the win and said they'd like us to be a part of the celebration here, which was pretty cool."
Having been a part of history and the first Kraft Hockeyville USA last season, Glessner said he was glad to see another community get the same treatment his did.
"It's really awesome to see," Glessner said. "It's great to be a part of the process the year after. I know how much hard work people have put into this thing and you can see it's a great event. There is great spirit around the event. It's neat to kind of be on the outside now and just kind of enjoy it and be a part of their party."