Kraft Hockeyville Canada on Saturday revealed the 10 communities that will compete to host a 2016-17 NHL preseason game and win $100,000 in arena upgrades.
Representing the East are: Flemingdon Park, Ontario; Brockville, Ontario; Oromocto, New Brunswick; Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia; and Saint-Isidore, Quebec.
Representing the West are: Lumby, British Columbia; St. Laurent, Manitoba; Martensville, Saskatchewan; Okotoks, Alberta; and St. Paul, Alberta.
The announcement was made live on CBC during the first intermission of the game between the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks. The 10 entrants, who were selected from a field of 846 unique rinks, now have one week to rally their communities to vote at KHV2016.ca before voting begins Sunday, March 13. The two finalists will be revealed Saturday, March 19 and a winner crowned Saturday, April 2.
Jason Fletcher, who headed the local organizing committee for North Saanich, British Columbia, the 2015 winner, has words of advice for those who now find themselves in his position.
"Brace yourself," Fletcher said Friday. "It sounds very cliché, but you're in for a ride. Buckle up. It moves so fast there's hardly time to take a breath and enjoy it. It's hard to believe our year is over, so get ready because it's going to be a lot of fun. It's truly special and a year later we're still proud."
Fletcher recalled the aftermath of the 2015 announcement when he realized the nomination he had made of North Saanich and its Panorama Recreation Centre Hockey Arena resonated enough in the community to make the cut.
This is the 10th year of Kraft Hockeyville Canada and the number of rinks entered set a new record. Fourteen were outdoor rinks and the 832 indoor rinks represented 34 percent of all indoor rinks across the country.
"You find out you made the top 10 and then it's this daunting task of mobilizing people; you become immersed in it and forget everything else, at least I did," Fletcher said. "It's Hockeyville 24 hours a day. When we made the second cut we started to go, 'Oh boy, here we are, this is something else.'
"Knowing you're in the final two, it's not about the money, because both finalists get the same amount, it's about having that title and celebrating as a community and having an NHL game in your community."
The Canucks defeated the Sharks 1-0 in the 2015 Kraft Hockeyville Canada game with B.C. native Adam Cracknell scoring the only goal in overtime.
More than five months later, Kraft Hockeyville can still be felt in North Saanich. Fletcher spoke of parades in town and being asked to throw out the first pitch on opening day for a local baseball association. Most importantly, long after the Canucks and Sharks left town to embark on the grind of another NHL season, the impact Kraft Hockeyville had on the community remains.
"You look on the ice and see the logo all year long and the signage at the arenas and the Facebook page. You walk around the community and you see people with the T-shirt or the hat, and your chest is puffed out just a little bit more," Fletcher said. "We really do love our community and the arena we're at, and there's a sense of pride in that. As we get closer and closer to finding the best way to spend the money, you involve the community again.
"It's a good roller coaster. There are peaks and valleys, but subsequent to that were the community events and the parades and the sense of pride of being able to give something back."
Fletcher said he is more than willing to assist the 2016 nominees and praised his organizing committee of six for what he called their phenomenal efforts to first get North Saanich nominated and then push them over the top.
"It's about networking," he said. "It's about talking to every person we knew to get the word out. That's all it is, is getting the word out, building excitement, saying this is a chance to show the rest of Canada what you're all about."