Already a winner as a final four entry West Lorne hopes for the votes
as the black and gold paint the West Elgin community
April 1, 2023
By Rob J. Ross
WEST LORNE, Ont. - Drive through West Lorne and one can see something big is happening throughout the rural community in western Elgin County.
From the tractor that greets drivers coming off of the 401, to the dozens of decorated businesses and homes along the streets, to activities occurring at both the West Lorne arena and West Elgin Secondary school, Kraft Hockeyville 2023 fever has fully embraced the town.
West Lorne is one of four finalists nation wide for Kraft Hockeyville, an annual competition sponsored by Kraft Heinz, the NHL and the NHL Player's Association, in which communities compete, displaying their spirit and commitment to the sport of hockey.
Voting takes place from 9 a.m. Friday, March 31, to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 1.
The winner receives $250,000 in arena upgrades, $10,000 in new hockey equipment and host a NHL exhibition game. The three finalists pick up $25,000 in arena upgrades and $10,000 in new hockey equipment.
"It's been really, really exciting. The last three weeks since we found out have been a blur," said Jessica Small, co-chair with Mary Jo Tait, for the organizing committee. "Seeing the community step up and help put this on has been phenomenal."
The West Lorne arena is the hockey hub for the communities of West Lorne, Dutton and Rodney in the municipalities of West Elgin and Dutton-Dunwich.
Winning Kraft Hockeyville 2023 would help with a range of upgrades at the rink, including a new front entrance, upgrading dressing rooms to accommodate more players and an expanded warm room for families and fans.
It's home to the minor hockey association, West Lorne Comets (WLMHA) and the black and gold can be spotted everywhere throughout the town of just under 1,400 people. Balloons, sticks, frisbees and homemade signs, decorate poles and trees along the streets.
"It's been incredible. We've had people come out and say, seeing the town painted and decorated the way it is brought them to tears," said Kevin Summers, WLMHA president. "With COVID and everything, everything got hit really hard, community spirit included. Not only is this good for West Lorne minor hockey and the arena, it's good for community spirit, because we're getting all three communities (West Lorne, Dutton, Rodney) to band together to become one, for one solid cause."
The cause, or the idea to enter Kraft Hockeyville, was initiated by Jessica Small and Mary Jo Tait, who entered West Lorne in to the contest, hoping and believing, but not quite overly optimistic, their bid would be selected final four. The pair would become the organizing committee's co-chairs.
"Surprised," admits Summers. "You don't want to go in thinking you're not going to win, but you wonder how many centers out there are doing anything. Thought we'd be a long shot and then we got a call about a film crew coming out."
West Lorne was told that didn't mean final four, but a few nights later, it was officially announced. West Lorne, along with Maple Ridge, B.C., Ste. Anne, Manitoba and Saint-Anselme, Quebec.
"At the beginning, it was okay we have to get this going and then it exploded from there," Small said. "It is amazing to see what people can do. This has brought these two municipalities (West Elgin, Dutton-Dunwich) together like we've never seen before. We do a lot of things together, but this is probably the biggest. It's something really special."
West Lorne has been a buzz since the announcement.
The arena hosted alumni games for the Comets and West Elgin Wildcats. The high school will be hosting the viewing party Saturday night and various activities from a mini sticks area and shooting gallery, to face painting and kids' crafts.
And everywhere, truly everywhere, the black and gold can be spotted from jerseys to on posters.
If West Lorne doesn't score the grand prize, the community is still top four with much gained valuable experience and support.
"No matter what happens we're still winners," Small said. "You come out with this experience and the momentum that the community has come together. Whether we win or not, it's going to lay a foundation for future growth, because everyone is pumped up about what we could do with this arena."
Adds Summers, "The way this all came together and the unity will carry forward moving on. Bill Denning (West Elgin Councillor) said it earlier, 'it will change the way that we do everything from here on out'.
"You can't put a price on it."
A win however, would send the supportive passion of the Comets' community soaring.
"It would prove how small and mighty we can be," said Summers. "You don't have to be a big center. You just have to have heart. You have to have support and the community behind you. The money would be incredible, but you see how excited everybody is, just in the top four.
The winner of Kraft Hockeyville will be announced during the first intermission of the first game (Toronto-Ottawa) on Hockey Night in Canada April 1.
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