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Newfoundland and Labrador

Ashcroft’s Drylands Arena in the running for Kraft Hockeyville competition

Ashcroft’s Drylands Arena is in contention for this year’s Kraft Hockeyville competition, and the Thompson-Cariboo Minor Hockey Association (TCMHA) is hoping public support will help it finish in the last four.

Now in its 17th year, the Hockeyville competition has awarded more than $4.5 million to 93 communities across Canada. Fans can submit and rally behind images, stories and videos about their chosen arena; The more support the better.

The rally period ends on February 19th and the judges then select the top four communities. The winner will be announced on April 1st and will receive $250,000 towards arena upgrades and improvements. The winning community will also host an NHL game. The three runners-up will each receive $25,000.

Kelsi Lysyshyn, TCMHA’s Ice Ambassador, says it’s the first time Drylands Arena has made it to the Kraft Hockeyville rally leg. The arena was nominated by TCMHA President Brent Monford and his wife Ashley.

“They applied to be community members using the arena; the club did not apply,” explains Lysyshyn. However, she notes that Drylands Arena could certainly use the funding.

“It needs some security and aesthetic improvements, and the concession area is definitely lackluster compared to other arenas. The banners need renovation because people worked hard to win them. We want to make Arena more user-friendly; We currently do not have a wheelchair spectator area and would like to make it more accessible for all. We would like to see the mezzanine being used a lot more, bringing more people into the arena and keeping them there.”

The dressing rooms are another area that needs improvement. They are mixed rooms and all teams are integrated with both boys and girls, but BC Hockey regulations mean that girls have to be in a different dressing room than boys after the U13s. That means girls older than U13 will have to change in a room under the stairs, and Lysyshyn says she can see BC Hockey changing regulations, lowering the age for separate dressing rooms to U11 or even U9. The $250,000 would go a long way in helping.

“Structurally, we can’t expand with that much money, so we’d have to settle for what’s already within the walls of the arena and make the best use of the space we have. We could renovate under the stairs to create another girls changing room.”

The need for a girls-only room is just one of the problems with the current changing rooms. “They don’t have shower doors and no doors to lock off the toilets, so there are privacy issues. The changing rooms are very small, but we could make them more user-friendly.”

The Kraft Hockeyville competition is a tough competition involving hundreds of communities. However, smallness is no barrier to victory, as the town of Twillingate, Newfoundland and Labrador (population 2,200) demonstrated in 2020 when it won the grand prize.

“We applied and nominated our community because we needed to renovate our arena,” said Grant White, Twillingate’s recreation director diary. Their arena began as an airport hangar at Gander, which the community ‘bought cheaply’ in 1967 and which had to be dismantled, shipped to Twillingate by rail and barge and then rebuilt.

“We had a great story, a good committee, and tremendous support from the community who submitted their own pictures and stories. Twillingate is a big hockey community and we had a big buy-in from the start, but once the nomination was submitted we had a huge buy-in and it snowballed.”

White says the more pictures and stories and submissions the better.

“We had a good Kraft Hockeyville committee to gather fans, post videos and cast votes. Without that, we probably wouldn’t have gotten in at first.”

When Twillingate made it into the last four, the community received regional, provincial, and nationwide support. While her victory was announced in 2020, the celebrations didn’t take place until 2022 due to COVID-19.

“We received the $250,000 as winners and we received $10,000 in hockey gear from the NHL Players’ Association, which was great for people in the community who needed hockey gear to participate.”

The NHL game between Montreal and Ottawa took place in Gander, which had a larger and more modern facility. However, alumni made their way to Twillingate the day before the game and another welcome visitor was the Stanley Cup.

“There were some surprise visits, like at school, and it was at the local arena where people could watch, take some photos and have fun. As soon as it got to town the first thing was to ride it around the harbor on a boat 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 required repairs due to roof leaks, 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 state funding and were able to receive more than $1 million in additional funding.

“Kraft Hockeyville allows us to keep the doors open longer for our residents and children,” says White. “It’s a small town and without volunteer support and organizations the community wouldn’t function. There was a lot of pride, a lot of excitement, people were posting on social media, the excitement of the announcement.

“There was certainly a lot of support from the community. Kraft Hockeyville definitely brought us together. We were united before but that added a level of excitement and pride.”

Back in Ashcroft, Lysyshyn says if Drylands Arena doesn’t go there this year, they’ll gather more next year, knowing it’s coming, and maybe plan differently.

“Community engagement and stories are so important,” she says. “Share your experience of Drylands Arena. If we don’t make it this year, that’s a good start. The community is more involved than ever this time, and if we get the funding, it can be used for other grants.

“The arena needs updating and we could entice more people to use it and attract people from other communities. A more inviting space could attract more people.”

To submit and support your stories, images and videos of Drylands Arena, before February 19, go to http://bit.ly/3YadR8v and search for Drylands Arena.

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