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Kraft Hockeyville a magical experience for Dundas

by Magalie Lafreni?re
Dundas residents weren't going to let a little bit of rain, or even lots of rain, stop them from enjoying the crowning moment of Kraft Hockeyville 2010, a game Tuesday night between the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators in their very own J.L. Grightmire Arena.

"We got here around 6 a.m.," two young Dundasians told -- they preferred to remain nameless as they had probably skipped school the morning of the game. "It was definitely worth it, I'll catch pneumonia for the Sabres."

Hundreds came out to greet the Sabres and the Senators upon their arrival and thousands returned to the pre-game pep rally. While the rain became heavier by game time, several hundred still weathered the storm to catch the action on the big screen. Most of those that remained were families, whose kids were not going to let their parents drag them away from this special event.

The devotion the Dundasians showed clearly impressed the NHL players.

"It was great," said Buffalo center Rob Niedermayer, who scored a shorthanded goal in the Sabres' 2-1 win. "Even though it was raining when we first pulled up for a pregame skate, there were tons of people out there waiting for us. I thought it was great. The whole day you could see the town was really up for it."

Ottawa forward Chris Kelly echoed that sentiment.

"The people were enthused to see us and it's great that lots of people were in the building for the morning skate," Kelly said. "It's always enjoyable to the see the kids. I think we were all that kid once upon a time looking up to the NHL guys and wanting to be an NHL player, so it was nice to see."

One wonders how many of the kids of Dundas will now try to score from the blue line like Senators rookie Patrick Wiercioch or try to follow in the Olympic footsteps of Cassie Campbell-Pascall or even tie their right skate before their left like former Senator Brad Marsh.

While it may be a little quieter now the NHL has departed, from the game day, to the hospital visits, to the Stanley Cup, to the hockey clinics and to the school visits it was a an experience the community of Dundas will not soon forgot.

Hamilton city councilor Russ Powers, who represents the community of Dundas, was jumping up and down come game time, but was also filled with emotion for the days that had just passed.

"Unfortunately we go back to normal, but I tell you this dream will go on forever and ever and ever," Powers said. "The people that had the opportunity to come to the game, the people that came down to the driving park over this weekend, it will be nothing but pleasant memories about a wonderful time, a once-in-a-lifetime experience for probably a lot of us."

Kraft Canada was once again pleased with the success of Hockeyville.

"It's terrific. Each year Kraft Hockeyville keeps getting bigger and bigger within the community," said Jack Hewitt, vice-president of marketing services at Kraft. "It's something this community has never seen before and not likely to experience again."

And perhaps Kraft should make Sabres coach Lindy Ruff their next spokesman -- his experience of Kraft Hockeyville brought back fond memories of his childhood and his previous Hockeyville experience in Roberval in 2008.

"The first thing I think of is Mac and Cheese when you mention Kraft. I think every hockey player grew up on a bit of Mac and Cheese," Ruff said. "You think of Kraft, hockey, Canada and a small building and a game and it's our opportunity to do it twice. I don't think we'd ever thought we'd be back in a game like this."

But perhaps it is the Ray Ritchie, who spends day in and day out at the J.L Grightmire Arena who had the clearest outlook on what Kraft Hockeyville has meant to Dundas.

"It's meant a lot to this community," Ritchie said. "The town is electric right now. The town is alive with enthusiasm about this game. Like they say, grassroots."

It certainly brought former Sabres left wing and Lightning Stanley Cup champion Dave Andreychuk back to his roots, and he was just as excited as the residents to be part of the festivities.

"It's been really great," Andreychuk said."I'm glad that I was back. I really realized that this community is rallying around minor hockey. It's been fun. There are all kinds of towns all over Canada that would love to have this here and it would be fun to go back and do Kraft Hockeyville."

Follow Magalie Lafrenière on Twitter at: @NHLmagalie

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