As a kid, my local rink was at the heart of everything I did. When I grew up in Kelvington, Saskatchewan -- a town of about 900 people at the time -- the rink was the cultural centre of my community. Seldom did a day pass that I wasn't on the ice or sitting behind the glass. Back then, the NHL seemed so far away, so hometown hockey meant so much. The players on the senior team were celebrities and the game brought everyone together.
There was nonstop action with house league intramurals on Tuesdays and Thursdays, senior games on Wednesdays and Fridays, and practices and shinny happening in between. The only day I couldn't get on the ice was Monday because of figure skating. Everyone hung around, hitting the concession counter for a snack, chatting in the stands, and sharing the latest news. Even the kids who didn't play would come out to watch their buddies.
Sometimes during the day, my classmates and I would sneak out onto the ice to get a few minutes of skating in. On days when we weren't playing, we would use the time between games and practices to fire a few pucks at the net. My parents' farm was about six kilometres out of town, so if I stayed too late I would end up sleeping at my grandmother's house, which was a pretty regular occurrence.
Today, arenas mean as much -- if not more -- to their communities. I coach kids' teams and see the same passion I remember. I talk to parents all the time who all say how much the sport matters to them and their children. It keeps the kids off the streets and out of trouble and shows them how to connect and communicate with one another. It's a place where they come into their own, building friendships and creating lasting memories.
These days, things move so quickly and we can feel disconnected from one another, but the arena unites us. It's a safe place and youngsters always want to be there. When they lace up, it's okay if they get in a bit of trouble as long as they can stay on the ice.
Hockey is a vital part of our culture. Whether we're from a tiny village or a big city, old or young, a sixth generation Canadian or new to the country, we all have stories about the game. It shaped the children we were and the adults we became.
In Kelvington, our rink fell into disrepair and was condemned. To turn it around, everyone chipped in. We didn't hire people to fix it; we worked together, rolling up our sleeves, doing whatever we could -- from welding and woodworking to driving tractors and raising money -- to save it. And it worked.
Kraft Hockeyville is back and bigger than ever in 2014 with a total of $1 million in prizing going to 16 communities across Canada, offering more opportunities to win and keep local rinks alive. Find out more at krafthockeyville.ca, Facebook.com/KraftHockeyville and @hockeyville.
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