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Kraft Hockeyville holds special place for participants

by Corey Masisak

SYLVAN LAKE, Alberta -- This small resort town in the middle of Alberta is almost perfectly placed between Edmonton and Calgary, and several NHL players past and present have spent their summers here.

One of them is Calgary Flames forward Curtis Glencross, who has had a home on the lake and spent time skating at the Sylvan Lake Arena and the Multiplex next door. He'll see a lot of familiar faces in the crowd Wednesday when the Flames play the Arizona Coyotes in a preseason game as part of Kraft Hockeyville (7 p.m. ET, NHL Network).

"I've got a place on the water here," Glencross said. "I haven't used it much the past couple summers but I let my parents move in this past spring. They're full-time residents now. It seems like it is better that way. I get to come and use it and don't have to do any yard work or stuff like that.

"It's going to be fun and exciting. It will be a small, close arena and there's going to be lots of kids here, lots of friends. It will definitely be great to play in a small barn and get back to the grassroots."

Sylvan Lake won the 2014 Kraft Hockeyville contest, defeating Kingston, Nova Scotia in the final round. A big part of what motivated the community to apply for the contest and then helped galvanize the town through the voting process was the collapse of the roof at the old arena in January.

The Coyotes and Flames will play in the Multiplex, but the remnants of the old arena remain in place next door. Part of the prize for winning the contest is $100,000 for arena improvements, which will go toward the construction of a new arena and community center.

"I was in shock," Flames defenseman Kris Russell said of his reaction to the news. "That is devastating for a small community like this. Small towns around Alberta are built around hockey rinks, so I'm sure it was a huge loss. The support for today has been huge in the community and in the surrounding areas. It is good to see them get this Kraft [Hockeyville]."

Russell grew up in Caroline, Alberta, which is about a 45-minute drive to the southwest from Sylvan Lake. He played in the collapsed arena as a kid.

Before the teams' morning skates, both teams signed autographs for a crowd of a few hundred fans who lined up outside Multiplex. Many were little kids; some arrived before 8 a.m.

"It's special," Russell said of interacting with the kids. "I had that with the Vandermeers (former NHL players Pete and Jim Vandermeer are from Caroline) growing up. I played in these same rinks that these guys are playing in now, so it is very special for me to come back. I was very excited to have the opportunity to play in this game."

Both teams brought several players who are Alberta natives or have connections to the province. The coaches for both pointed out this remains an important preseason game, especially for the players who are fighting for roster spots.

Still, the potential impact for the community from the game was not lost on them.

"A lot of us grew up in small towns like this where people are very passionate about the game," Arizona coach Dave Tippett said. "We tried to bring as many players that had some kind of connection with Alberta or Western Canada as we could to put in the game. I think it will have great meaning for them."

For players like Glencross and Coyotes goaltender Brendan Burke, who have spent time here in the summer, there will be time for memories before the game. They also are part of the future, with the game as a culmination of the celebration of hockey here that will resonate not only with the people who participated but also when area residents are skating in a new arena, possibly as soon as 2015.

"We used to skate in [the old arena] in the summer time quite a bit a few years back," Glencross said. "It was quite a bit smaller of an ice sheet. When we started skating with all of the pro guys and semi-pro guys, we had to go down to four skaters a side because it was a little too small to play 5-on-5 out there. They were in much need of a new arena.

"It is huge. They did a lot of work to represent the community in the contest. It is a great little community so they should be proud of themselves and we're looking forward to the game."


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