For some of us, watching hockey comes with the yearly reminders about Kraft Hockeyville – a competition put together by Kraft Heinz Canada in partnership with the NHL and NHLPA to support often smaller local arena throughout different communities.
Well, it’s that time again and communities around the nation are getting their nominations ready for the their chance at receiving $250,000 towards arena upgrades along with the chance to host an NHL preseason contest and the title of being Kraft Hockeyville 2020.
But for the folks at Kraft Heinz Canada, the joy doesn’t simply come from naming a community the winner of this yearly contest. Rather it’s the ability to pull together communities from across the country and have them unite around the game of hockey. For them, it’s more than a simple contest.
About Kraft Hockeyville
While many of you might know what this competition entails, others might be new to the community-based contest that helps to refresh local arenas. Because of that, here’s a quick refresher on just what Kraft Hockeyville is all about.
It was started back in 2006 as a way for Kraft Heinz Canada along with its partnerships to give back to local communities across the country. Since then, it has awarded $3.5 million to 81 communities across Canada with 13 NHL preseason games having been played in eight different provinces.
The goal – it’s simple. To revitalize and retool local arenas in communities where they act as social hubs for its community members. Some past winners include Terrace, B.C., Dundas, Ontario, and most recently Renous, New Brunswick.
This year, the 2020 grand prize winner with not only have the chance to host an NHL preseason game, but will receive $250,000 to be used towards arena upgrades. On top of that, the three runner-up communities will receive $25,000 each for their own upgrades. Even better, each of the four finalists will also get $10,000 towards new equipment for their minor league programs, thanks in large part to the NHLPA Goals & Dreams Fund.
But the contest isn’t just about shelling out money to these communities. Sure, it helps the towns and cities keep their arenas in top working condition, but there’s more to the competition than simply naming a winner. That’s reminding folks of just how important sports – and the game of hockey – is to building and maintaining a community.
Finding Real Importance in Kraft Hockeyville
Part of the selection process for Kraft Hockeyville is having communities show their passion and spirit for hockey. Sure, the nomination is important, but the folks at Kraft Heinz Canada also want to see what the game means to each of these communities across the country.
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“You know, that’s always my favourite part is just seeing the impact we’re making not only financially in the top four communities, but even the communities that don’t make the top four,” said Matt Bruce, Senior Brand Manager at Kraft Heinz Canada in an interview with THW. “Seeing them come together, becoming closer and ultimately becoming more confident in their game and their community.”
For folks behind the scenes, it’s a reward experience as well to give back to these communities.
“It’s incredible to be able to give back on behalf of Kraft Heinz,” said Bruce. “You know, I love being able to interact with such amazing communities across our country and hearing everyone’s unique stories. It’s really a sport that’s ingrained in our culture and to be able to protect the future of the sport by investing in local arenas is incredible. I love coming to work every day and this is the most exciting month for me – when nominations are open.”
While the game has gone through it’s own hurdles over the last little while, things surrounding the game like Kraft Hockeyville has allowed the game to continue to grow in all kinds of communities throughout the country, as well as becoming a global interest.
“For me, what I love is – before the game when we’re in the community – the players come off and meet all the kids and sign autographs and, you know, just the smile on these kids faces is always incredible to see,” said Bruce about the NHL players coming into these communities. “Especially when we’re in some communities that don’t necessarily have access to NHL players throughout the year, whether it’s New Brunswick where we were last year which would rarely get an NHL game, if any. So just seeing those kids interact with NHL players is an awesome moment for me.”
As for the game itself, it’s become one of the more expensive sports to play due to the price tag on ice-time, travel and equipment needed for it, but as Bruce explains, part of the initiative here is to add to the inclusiveness of the game.
“It is a sport that is expensive, not only from an infrastructure standpoint, but from an equipment standpoint,” he said. “You know, growing up I didn’t realize how expensive it was, but now I’m a little older and can see how much a hockey stick or a helmet costs these days and that’s a great part of our program and something we’ve added over the past few years is that the top four finalists also receive $10,000 in hockey equipment. While it isn’t helping make it affordable for everyone in Canada, it does go a long way in these four communities.”
Well, as we mentioned, the nomination period is open for communities to get their opportunity to win in there. Nominations do close on Feb. 9 at 11:59 p.m. EST and the final four will be announced on Mar. 14.
As for the winner, they will be announced on Mar. 28 when Kraft Heinz Canada will have cameras in all four communities to get reaction from each of them. While it won’t be an easy decision for the folks behind the competition, it will be a rewarding one no matter what for each of the communities involved.
For more, you can visit Kraft Hockeyville’s website for complete contest rules and program details.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.