Nearly 800 raucous hockey fans crowded into Sylvan Lake’s community centre on March 22 to learn if their efforts to vote the central Alberta town into the Kraft Hockeyville finals had paid off.
They weren’t disappointed.
“When the announcement (that Sylvan was in the final two) was made, it was pretty loud,” said Jared Waldo, one of the Sylvan Lakers who nominated the town in January.
“It’s validation for the work this community has done — not just Sylvan, but everywhere that’s been supporting us.”
And work is the right word for it — in the last round of voting, Sylvan Lake received more than 1.5 million votes in two days, putting it in the lead for the Kraft Hockeyville grand prize of $100,000 in upgrades to the town’s multiplex and the opportunity to host an NHL pre-season game. The roof of the town’s other ice rink — a 40-year-old arena — collapsed under heavy snow earlier this winter, and is a writeoff. That sparked the overwhelming show of support, said Waldo.
“You have a hockey-crazed market like Sylvan that depends on having those two sheets of ice,” he said. “When you get down to one, it’s slim pickings. There’s a lot of communities that can relate to that.”
Hockey fans from towns from across Canada are throwing their support behind Sylvan Lake to claim the Hockeyville title over their remaining rival Kingston, N.S.
“It’s so Canadian of everybody to lend their support,” said Waldo. “Good people do great things for other people, and we’re seeing some of that right now.”
The extra support will help, but now that the contest is down to the final two towns, Kraft Hockeyville organizers want to see “the spirit of the community.”
“You see that in the voting, but they want to see people coming out and physically supporting this bid and this community.”
Sylvan Lake’s Hockeyville organizing committee is planning events leading up to the April 5 grand prize announcement that Waldo hopes will showcase the town’s community spirit.
“It’s one thing to sit behind your keyboard and your tablets and your phones voting — it’s another to get out and physically support it,” he said.
A lifelong Sylvan Laker, Waldo has “no doubts” that the community and its supporters will rise to the challenge.
“There’s a reason I never want to leave (Sylvan Lake), and part of it is the town itself, but another part of it is the community and the people within it,” he said.
“When we have an opportunity like this to bring the community together, it just reinforces why this is home and why it will continue to be home for me and my kids.”
Voting for the final round has closed.