Ashcroft’s Drylands Arena is in the running for this year’s Kraft Hockeyville competition, and the Thompson-Cariboo Minor Hockey Association (TCMHA) is hoping that public support will help it advance to the final four.
The Hockeyville competition is now in its 17th year, and has awarded more than $4.5 million to 93 communities across Canada. Fans can submit pictures, stories, and videos about their chosen arena and rally behind it; the more support the better.
The rally period ends on Feb. 19, and judges will then select the top four communities. The winner will be announced on April 1 and will receive $250,000 for arena upgrades and improvements; the winning community will also host an NHL game. The three runners-up will each receive $25,000.
Kelsi Lysyshyn, the Ice Ambassador for TCMHA, says that this is the first time Drylands Arena has made it to the rally stage in Kraft Hockeyville. The arena was nominated by TCMHA president Brent Monford and his wife Ashley.
“They applied as community members who use the arena; the association didn’t apply,” explains Lysyshyn. However, she notes that Drylands Arena could certainly use the funding.
“It needs some safety and aesthetic upgrades, and the concession area is definitely lacklustre compared with other arenas. The banners need to be refurbished, because people worked hard to win them. We want to make the arena more user-friendly; we don’t currently have a viewing area for people in wheelchairs, and we want to make it more accessible for everyone. We’d like to see the mezzanine utilized a lot more, bring more people to the arena and keep them there.”
The dressing rooms are another area that needs improvement. They are co-ed spaces, and all the teams are integrated with boys and girls, but BC Hockey regulations mean that after U13, girls need to be in a different dressing room to the boys. This means that girls older than U13 are having to change in a space under the stairs, and Lysyshyn says she can see BC Hockey changing the regulations and dropping the age for segregated dressing rooms to U11 or even U9. The $250,000 would go a long way toward helping.
“Structurally, we can’t expand with that sort of money, so we’d have to make do with what’s already within the walls of the arena, and utilize the space we have as best we can. We could refurbish under the stairs to make another dressing room for girls.”
The need for a girls-only space is only one of the issues with the current dressing rooms. “They don’t have shower doors, and there are no doors to block off the toilets, so there are privacy issues. The change rooms are very small, but we could make them more user-friendly.”
The Kraft Hockeyville competition is a tough one, with hundreds of communities taking part. However, being small isn’t a barrier to winning, as the town of Twillingate, Newfoundland and Labrador (pop. 2,200) demonstrated in 2020, when it took the top prize.
“We applied and nominated our community because we needed renovations to our arena,” Grant White, Twillingate’s recreation director, tells the Journal. Their arena started life as an airport hangar in Gander, which the community “bought cheap” in 1967 and which had to be disassembled, shipped by rail and boat to Twillingate, and then reassembled.
“We had a great story, and had a good committee in place, and had a tremendous amount of support from the community, who submitted pictures and stories of their own. Twillingate is a big hockey community, and we had a big buy-in from the start, but once the nomination was submitted we had tremendous buy-in, and it snowballed from that.”
White says that the more pictures and stories and submissions, the better.
“We had a good Kraft Hockeyville committee in place to rally supporters, post videos, and get the votes out. Without that we probably wouldn’t have got in initially.”
When Twillingate made it to the final four, the community got regional and provincial support, as well as support from across the country. While their win was announced in 2020, celebrations didn’t take place until 2022 because of COVID-19.
“We got the $250,000 as the winner, and we got $10,000 in hockey equipment from the NHL Players’ Association, which was great for people in the community who were in need of hockey equipment in order to take part.”
The NHL game between Montreal and Ottawa took place in Gander, which had a bigger and more modern facility. However, alumni came to Twillingate the day before the game, and another welcome visitor was the Stanley Cup.
“It made some surprise visits, like to the school, and it was at the local arena for people to view it and take some pictures and have some fun. As soon as it came to town the first thing was to take it on a boat around the harbour, and we took players and partners with us, so there were some great memories for sure.”
White adds that the whole campaign was good for the younger generation: “They learned about our history and our hockey rink and where it came from.”
The Twillingate arena needed repairs done to the roof because of leaking, as well as mechanical and equipment upgrades. There were also building code requirements, and White says that with municipal support they applied for federal and provincial funding and were able to get more than $1 million in additional funds.
“Kraft Hockeyville allows us to keep the doors open longer for our residents and kids,” says White. “It’s a small town, and without volunteer support and organizations, the community would fail to operate. There was lots of pride, lots of excitement, people posting on social media, the excitement of the announcement.
“There was certainly lots of support from the community. Kraft Hockeyville definitely united us for sure. We were united previously, but this added a level of excitement and pride.”
Back in Ashcroft, Lysyshyn says that if Drylands Arena doesn’t get there this year, they’ll rally more next year knowing it’s coming, and perhaps plan differently.
“Community involvement and stories are so important,” she says. “Share your experience with Drylands Arena. If we don’t make it this year, it’s a good start. The community is more involved this time than ever before, and if we get the funding it can be leveraged for other grants.
“The arena needs an upgrade, and we could entice more people to come use it, draw people from other communities. A more inviting space might bring more people in.”
To submit your stories, pictures, and videos of Drylands Arena, and rally behind it, go to http://bit.ly/3YadR8v before Feb. 19 and look for Drylands Arena.
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