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St. Pierre knows Hockeyville 2008 well

by Brian Compton

While some will be traveling to Roberval for the very first time this weekend for Kraft Hockeyville 2008, NHL referee Justin St. Pierre will be in familiar surroundings.

St. Pierre -- who will handle the preseason matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night -- was born in Dolbeau, Quebec, and grew up just outside of Dolbeau in Albanel, which is less than an hour away from where the festivities will get under way this weekend. He played midget and junior hockey in Normandin and Dolbeau.

"It's going to be exciting," St. Pierre told "It's about 45 minutes away from my hometown. I've played hockey there and I've reffed there."

St. Pierre officiated many games in the Roberval area as he worked his way up the ranks. He became a full-time NHL referee only two years ago, but his love for the game saw him refereeing games by the age of 15. By 1992, he was a part of the Elite Provincial Program, where he worked Midget AAA and Junior A contests. It was around that time when he got his first taste of the passion the city of Roberval has for the game of hockey.

"It's not a huge town, but everybody loves hockey there," St. Pierre said. "I remember I was reffing a Bantam game, and it was packed all the time. It's huge over there."

Roberval was tabbed Hockeyville 2008 earlier this year when it defeated Kingston, Ontario, by close to a million votes. A village of roughly 10,000 people, Roberval is known for the thousands of people who skate and fish on Lac Saint-Jean during the winter. It's also the only city that sits directly off of the shore.

By the end of this coming weekend, Roberval will be the center of the hockey universe. Not only will thousands gather in the village to celebrate, but several media outlets -- including -- will also be in attendance to document the once-in-a-lifetime event.

"It's going to be crazy," St. Pierre said. "I think they put three huge tents outside. There's only 1,200 people in the rink. There's going to be a huge party outside every night. It's going to be fun."

Since he returns home during the offseason, St. Pierre has been able to keep up with the local media coverage of Hockeyville. Obviously, due to the magnitude of this event in such an intimate setting, the coverage has been nonstop.

"As soon as they won, they started talking about it every week in the paper," St. Pierre said. "It's huge. I worked the playoffs there, and the rink was packed every night. It was awesome."

While a capacity crowd is expected inside Benoit Levesque Arena, city officials are expecting anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 people outside the facility to watch the Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres on a giant screen. Without question, the Canadiens' presence in Quebec will play a large role throughout the festivities.

But the city claims it is prepared for such an event due to the swimming competition it holds during the summer in Lac Saint-Jean. So if thousands of people travel to Roberval for swimming in the summer, what kind of a response will an NHL hockey game create?

"We've got a big lake," said St. Pierre, who worked his first NHL game in 2005. "During the summer, there's a huge festival there. It's like 20,000 people. It's not a huge town, but everybody loves hockey there. I remember I was reffing a Bantam game, and it was packed all the time. It's huge over there."


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