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Welcome to Hockeyville

by Evan Grossman / NHL.com
North Bay, Ontario beat out a number of other small towns like Smithers, BC, above, for the title of "Hockeyville."
MONCTON, New Brunswick --
Everyone knows that "Hockeytown" is in Detroit, but when it comes to the little place known as "Hockeyville", well, you might have a little trouble finding it on a map or on a globe.

That's because that mystical place is an ever-changing locale. Every year it moves to a new city or town that wears the title of Hockeyville with the pride NHL teams wear their own colors. This year, the city of North Bay, Ontario will be known as Hockeyville as part of the Kraft/CBC contest that awards the title (and plenty of other goodies) to the Canadian town that exhibits the greatest passion for the game of hockey.

Of course, when you're talking about the passion Canadian cities and towns have for hockey, it's a measurement generally gauged in kilotons. Everyone in Canada has a deep love for the game, every small town holds our frozen sport in such high regard. But for the last two years, the contest has fielded entries from all across the country to pinpoint the greatest little hockey-loving burgh in all the land.

Evan Grossman

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Plain and simple, the Hockeyville contest pits Canadian communities against each other to show how strong their commitment to hockey is.

This year, that city is North Bay, a town of 53,000 people tucked in the northeast corner of Ontario, which beat out places like Cornwall, Ont., Warner, Alb., Smithers, BC, and Noelville, Ont. The winner was announced on Hockey Night in Canada last season with the CBC cameras rolling with hundreds of people packed into Don Cherry's restaurant in downtown North Bay. A little like American Idol, hockey fans vote on which city they think is most deserving of the title of Hockeyville, based on short videos presented by each town.

North Bay's video highlighted their annual pond hockey tournament, the town's hosting of youth hockey players displaced by Hurricane Katrina two years ago, the work conducted by the North Bay food bank, and of course, ties to NHL players like Craig Rivet, Bill Barber, officiating czar Stephen Walkom, and Darren Turcotte, who coaches the local Junior-A team.

As part of the contest, North Bay won several great prizes, the centerpiece of which is Monday's preseason game between the New York Islanders and Atlanta Thrashers. The teams will face off that night at Memorial Gardens, which is expected to bring out more people than the barn can hold. It is Hockeyville, after all.

Ted Nolan knows the importance of bringing the NHL game to small towns around Canada.
"Anywhere north is home," Isles head coach Ted Nolan says of the area near where he grew up in Northern Ontario. "Everyone else is southerners."

In addition to the game, North Bay also won the title of Hockeyville for one year, a trophy to signify their victory, $50,000 to use on improving a public arena and a feature segment that will air on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada.

For Nolan and the Islanders, who are holding training camp in another small town, Moncton, New Brunswick, there will always be a soft spot for hockey's small towns, really the lifeblood of the game of hockey in Canada.

"Sometimes we want to go into big centers, which is nice," Nolan says. "But the real hockey fans are in small-town Canada. You look up here in Moncton, and the arena is packed. They're very passionate about the sport. It's part of our culture up here. When we go to North Bay, they're going to be excited. This sport is a great sport. And they're playing for the greatest fans of this sport."

That passion can be felt on the ice, and it generally translates to better hockey.

"Even today's scrimmage, it was a little more lively than yesterday's," Nolan said. "Yesterday was a school day for all the kids and a work day. Today's an off day and you see a lot of families come down here and you see moms and dads with their young ones come down here for the day. Obviously it excites the players and they play a little bit harder."

Imagine how hard they'll play in Hockeyville then.
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