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Hockeygate: Premature news release spoils Hockeyville announcement

West Kelowna Hockeyville co-chair Adam Less speaks to a disappointed crowd after the official announcement that West Kelowna finished second in the 2012 Kraft Hockeyville contest.  - Wade Paterson/Capital News
West Kelowna Hockeyville co-chair Adam Less speaks to a disappointed crowd after the official announcement that West Kelowna finished second in the 2012 Kraft Hockeyville contest.
— image credit: Wade Paterson/Capital News

Just before 8 p.m. on Saturday, Gary Bettman announced that Stirling-Rawdon, ON was the winner of Kraft Hockeyville 2012.

But many of those watching the announcement at Royal LePage Place in West Kelowna had known the result for hours.

A news release, issued by PR Newswire, was sent out early Saturday claiming that Stirling-Rawdon had beaten out West Kelowna and the other three challengers to win the Hockeyville title, which includes $100,000 in arena upgrades and the opportunity to host an NHL exhibition game this fall.

According to Internet reports, the official press release was supposed to be sent out at 10:45 p.m. Eastern time; however, it was accidentally sent out at 10:45 a.m. by the newswire service.

Upon hearing about the leak, West Kelowna Hockeyville co-chairs Adam Less and Andrew Deans attempted to confirm the news with Kraft and CBC; however, the companies remained tight-lipped about the situation.

As time went on, it became more and more obvious to Less and Deans that the rumour was true.

"Today's feeling was just like going into a game seven, but knowing you lost already," said Deans.

"I feel bad for myself because I let Kraft and CBC tell me throughout the day that it was going to be OK. . .that wasn't the truth.

"I think we did the right thing by staying classy and smiling and getting through it."

Although many adults were aware of the news before the official announcement, most of the kids were unaware that the results were already out. For Deans and others who knew the results, the situation drew parallels to telling children about Santa Claus.

"I'm never going to grow a beard again and I hope I don't go gray because I'm never going to be Santa Claus. I just could not do that—today was a rough day.

"We worked so hard and I just kind of wanted to enjoy today with the community. Adam and I didn't get that chance."

Deans said that he hopes there might be some sort of repercussion for the way the news leaked early.

"We're definitely going to write a letter to CBC and ask why it had to be this way."

Deans said that despite the unfortunate incident, he was proud of his community and the Hockeyville campaign.

According to Less, "pride" is also what was running through his mind moments after the announcement.

"I'm incredibly proud of the community I live in; I'm incredibly proud of the support that they've given us," said Less.

He added that with over 2.7 million votes, West Kelowna earned the second highest tally in Hockeyville history. But, unfortunately, they were up against a community that received over 3.9 million votes.

Less said that, after hearing the news about the winner and learning it was legitimate, he found it tough to be "disingenuous" with the community.

"It's unfortunate that (for) such an amazing competition, such an amazing experience, the results had to come out that way.

"But, despite all of that, it's been an amazing run and we're thrilled that we did it."

Another twist in the story came around 2 p.m. on Saturday when Big White Ski Resort sent out a news release claiming that an NHL exhibition game will be played at Big White.

According to the release, executives from both CBC and Kraft Hockeyville looked at the Big White skating rink—Canada's highest outdoor rink—and proposed an outdoor exhibition game to Big White management.

The release quotes "NHL officials" as saying that the rink is "certainly large enough" and that "the high elevation of the rink would be great for the players' pre-season fitness."

According to Blair Ireland, director of guest services at Big White Ski Resort, "We are still looking at dates and logistics, but we are all huge hockey fans and will ensure that this is a great event."

On Saturday evening, when asked if he knew anything about Big White's announcement, Less said, "I got told that about half an hour ago; I know very little about it.

"I think it's fantastic. I'd like to think that maybe we played a part in it. If not, at the very least, what we've done is we've confirmed through this campaign what an amazing hockey community this community is."

West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater agreed that the Westside has been nationally recognized for its hockey pride.

"We've gotten priceless national coverage; people right across the country now know (of) West Kelowna," said Findlater.

Findlater said that the competition brought out impressive levels of community spirit and memorable stories.

"We all have stories to tell. My story is sitting in an ambulance with my broken leg, tapping on my iPad, voting," said Findlater, who broke his leg a couple of weeks ago while snowboarding at Big White.

He said he was a bit puzzled by the news leak, but refused to lose all hope before hearing the official announcement.

"It seems odd. This is a pretty sophisticated corporate effort when it comes to Kraft and CBC, so it seems very odd there would be a mistake like that. I guess I held out a little bit of hope."

B.C. Premier Christy Clark was on hand to share the celebration with West Kelowna on Saturday night.

She arrived about an hour before the announcement to shake the hands of children and tell them "we're going to win." She too was already aware of West Kelowna's fate.

"Coming first is the best, but there's no shame in coming second in a competition like this," said Clark.

"This is a great province, filled with people who love hockey. I think everybody here has a lot to be proud of."

Clark said the competition went beyond just recognizing those who play hockey.

"This is a chance to recognize not just all the kids who love hockey, but all the moms and dads, the grandparents, the unsung heroes of hockey."

wpaterson@kelownacapnews.com

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