The little town that could...and did! A total of 532 communities tossed their hat into the ring and 16 million votes were cast, but in the end, only one community in all of Canada would win the top honour of being named Kraft Hockeyville 2014. That would be Sylvan Lake, Alberta. Sylvan Lake, 25 kilometres west of Red Deer, has the honour of hosting a 2014 - 2015 NHL pre-season game plus a visit from CBC. True honours, indeed, but I also want to draw particular attention to the monetary prize – $100,000 worth of arena upgrades – because in this case it's hugely important. Many thought that Sylvan Lake, population of about 13,000, had fallen to its knees when tragedy struck in January. The local arena, for decades the lifeblood of the community, known to locals as "The Barn" or "The Old Girl," had collapsed in the middle of the night. If, like me, you've spent part or all of your childhood in a small Canadian town, you can appreciate that the local arena-community centre, whether it's the next street over or a few kilometres down the road, whether it's a spiffy well-equipped recreation complex or an old warehouse-like structure that has withstood the test of time, is the heart of the community. This was especially true in Sylvan Lake. Local scribe Dianne W. said it best:
"Nothing is more exciting than watching the kids, and now my grandkids, hustling and bustling, trying to find their feet on the ice. Nothing is more exciting than watching them grow into the game, wanting to be the next big hockey name. Hockey gets into your blood, and there it stays! There’s no shaking it!"Winning the $100,000 worth of arena upgrades was about practicality and pride, something Albertans have in spades. I look with admiration upon the recovery efforts after other disasters in that province, the flooding on the eve of the 2013 Calgary Stampede, the heroic efforts of neighbours in High River pulling together to dig ditches against the rising flood waters in that town, and of the stoicism and determination of citizens in Great Slave Lake after the horrific fire a few years ago. The criteria for Kraft Hockeyville called for passionate and logical essays why a community qualified for this place of pride. Sylvan Lake succeeded on all counts and deserves the top spot. And there's a whole lot more to see and do in Sylvan Lake in addition to hockey. Click here to check out our Sylvan Lake slideshow.