Patrick Sharp is a three-time Stanley Cup champion, a gold-medal winner for Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and has played in three regular-season outdoor games.
But Sharp, an analyst for NBC Sports, is looking forward to experiencing a new event when he attends Kraft Hockeyville USA for the first time.
Entering its sixth year, Kraft Hockeyville USA is seeking the most spirited and enthusiastic hockey communities in the United States for a chance to compete for the opportunity to host an NHL preseason game and receive up to $150,000 in rink upgrades from Kraft Heinz.
"It's a little different than what I am used to over the last 10-15 years of my career going into these state-of-the-art facilities, playing in the NHL," said Sharp, who played 16 NHL seasons from 2002-18. "I'm looking forward to the whole experience. I want to be reminded of how fun the game was at a young age. Going back to a small town is going to bring back a lot of memories for me what it was like as a young kid."
Calumet Colosseum in Calumet, Michigan hosted a preseason game between the St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings on Sept. 26, 2019. Though Sharp wasn't there, he said he's heard stories about the improvements and how the community came together.
"I'm excited to see the before and after, how much better the facilities are going to be," he said. "And I can't wait to hear those unique stories whether it's the Zamboni driver that's been there for decades or local coaches in the area that have given their time and sacrificed so much for the community."
Local communities can visit KraftHockeyville.com until Feb. 29 to submit a story on why their rink deserves to win. There will be a judging period from March 1-21 before the four finalists are announced March 22. A nationwide vote will then take place from March 28 at 7 a.m. ET until March 29 at 11 a.m. ET. The winner will be named later that day during a nationally televised NHL game on NBC.
"Connecting with the grassroots of the game, that's what it's all about," said Sharp, who won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, 2013 and 2015. "It's fun to watch the pros play and cover that on a daily basis, but everyone we're watching on a nightly basis in the NHL started at this level. That's where the love of the game starts.
"Everyone we're watching in the NHL started at this level. That's what I think is the coolest about this. You see the excitement from these towns and the people when Kraft and the NHL roll in."
Since launching in Canada in 2006, Kraft Hockeyville has positively impacted more than 100 communities with more than $4.5 million in rink upgrades across Canada and the United States.
"It brings the community together more than anything," Sharp said. "That amount of money to upgrade a local hockey community center is a unique experience that will benefit the winners long after the event is over."
Like many others who competed in the NHL, Sharp, who had 620 points (287 goals, 333 assists) in 939 games with the Philadelphia Flyers, Blackhawks and Dallas Stars, began his hockey playing days on a small local rink.
"We could've used some improvements to some of the rinks I played in over the years," he said. "Whether it's a nice scoreboard or a locker room, and the NHLPA throwing in equipment as part of the Goals and Dreams foundation, hockey is a great sport but it's expensive. All of the assistance that Kraft can provide is going to be beneficial."
This year, Kraft is again giving away a trip for two to a Stanley Cup Final game. Each vote cast equals one entry into the sweepstakes, and you can vote up to 40 times.
"I grew up in a small community, in Thunder Bay, Ontario," Sharp said. "We spent a lot of time, a lot of nights during the week at the local hockey rink, the community center playing hockey games on the ice. It was a place where the whole community seemed to hang out and learned a lot of life lessons there as well."
Fans can show support for Kraft Hockeyville USA on social media on Facebook (KraftHockeyvilleUSA), Twitter (@HockeyvilleUSA) and Instagram (@KraftHockeyvilleUSA) and can join the conversation using #HockeyvilleUSA.
"Now I'm on the other side of things working with Kraft and we have a chance to inspire future generations and improve the conditions of current hockey rinks," Sharp said. "It's a cool opportunity for me to be a part of."