Lakeview Arena in Marquette, Michigan, was named winner of Kraft Hockeyville USA 2016 in April, but because of a bad internet connection, it almost didn't happen.
Dr. Frederick Hoenke, who submitted the winning essay, almost didn't send it a second time after his first attempt accidentally was deleted.
"I voted for the rink, not knowing what exactly it was, and then it said 'Why your rink should win,' so I pounded out a quick little entry and hit send and it deleted," Hoenke said. "A few hours later, I got back to my office and something in the back of my head was bothering me, so I said, 'I'll try one more time.' I tried to remember from memory what I said, did it quickly and hit send. I still really didn't know what I had entered."
Marquette and Lakeview Arena finished ahead of more than 1,000 communities, including runner-up Rushmore Thunderdome in Rapid City, South Dakota. A total of $335,000 was awarded to the top 10 finishers, including $150,000 to Marquette, which also will get to host a nationally televised preseason game between the Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN).
Johnstown, Pennsylvania, was the winner of the inaugural Kraft Hockeyville USA last season, meaning that Cambria County War Memorial Arena received arena upgrades and got to host a preseason game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning.
"I had never heard of [Kraft Hockeyville] before," Hoenke said. "I didn't even know what it was when I applied for it. Our hockey association sent a request to all the parents, 'Will you vote for this thing?' I said 'OK, fine.' I can click a button and vote for this thing like anyone else can."
Shortly after, Hoenke got a call from Kraft telling him that Marquette was a top 10 finalist and would be receiving at least $10,000 for upgrades to Lakeview Arena. It was announced as the winner on April 30, live during NBC's broadcast of the New York Islanders at Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"It's overwhelming," Hoenke said. "The idea that all the people we competed against, clearly in some way my essay made an impact, I think it really got people interested. What this does for the community is enormous.
"The community rallied together. Without paying for it, we cleaned the inside of the rink. It was all cleaned by hand, and then the inside was painted, mostly by volunteers pretty much. It looks beautiful inside. Every seat has been cleaned in ways that make it shine, and it has been very gratifying."
The lighting and public address systems were upgraded, Zambonis were overhauled, and replacement glass was donated by the Colorado Avalanche.
Hoenke said he wrote in his essay the impact hockey has on Marquette.
"Our community is limited in size and population," he said. "Costs of these kind of things have gone up, so the budget has gotten more and more challenging even just to keep the place going. Lakeview Arena is 43 years old. When I first came to town, it was a pretty new facility, and you sort of don't realize over the years what happens, but the reality is it was deteriorating badly. The roof leaked. The boards were worn. The glass was beat up; you couldn't see through it. The compressors were shot. The dehumidification system couldn't keep the ice hard. So that's how we are spending the money."
The arena already has undergone most of the transformation and will be at the center of the hockey universe Tuesday.
Hoenke didn't play hockey, but he's always been a fan of the game. He said hockey has always been huge on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and to the people who live there, affectionately known as "Yoopers." In fact, his son played against a recent Stanley Cup champion at Lakeview Arena.
"When my son was 10, he and I went into town and watched a game and he started playing," Hoenke said. "He was on a really strong Bantam AA team that advanced to the state semifinals. He actually played against Phil Kessel, who didn't score on us in three games, and got into it. There is no other game half as good as hockey.
"Our teams were very successful for a small town like we are, and all the things we said [in the essay] were really true. The Yoopers are really tough people and love the game. [The essay] just came from the heart at that point; it was pretty easy."
Lakeview Arena opened in 1974 and has been home to several teams in a number of leagues including the Marquette Iron Rangers (United States Hockey League), the Marquette Electricians (Midget AAA), and the Marquette Rangers (North American Hockey League). Northern Michigan University (NCAA Division I) went undefeated at Lakeview Arena during the 1990-91 season before going on to win the 1991 NCAA championship.
"When people come to town, they are going to see this beautiful interior, and it says a lot about who we are as a community," Hoenke said. "To me, it's far more important what it means to the community for culture, spirit, history and legacy in drawing people together."