Community pride swells in final bid for Hockeyville title

West Kelowna's bid to be crowned Kraft Hockeyville ends tonight, prompting a final push for votes from event organizers.



West Kelowna’s bid to be crowned Kraft Hockeyville ends one way or another tonight, but some say the real prize was awarded weeks ago in the form of a newfound sense of community.

“You know, we’ve gone through a lot of turmoil,” said Larry McLean, a 40 year resident of West Kelowna, during his Monday stop at a  24/7 voting centre set up in the Comfort Inn.

“I’ve seen a lot of friction here, and this event here has done wonders.”

Divides born from the 2007 incorporation of the city, which controversially stripped it of the name Westbank, and other regional disputes are just a few of the issues McLean has seen fall to the wayside in the last few months.

“This is dispelling that us-and-them thing that’s gone on for so long,” he said. “We’re a brand new community, and this is a fresh start. We’ll come out of this dancing.”

McLean diligently attended the voting centre every day since it opened—even altering his work schedule to open up the maximum amount of voting time— and he’s not unique in either his dedication or enthusiasm.

“To some it’s a hockey contest, but it’s become a lot more than that,” said West Kelowna Hockeyville co-chair, Adam Less.

“It’s captured people’s imaginations in a way I never would have imagined. It’s been an amazing transformation.”

It’s a transformation that’s become noticeable since West Kelowna was first put in the Top 15 of the Hockeyville competition, and reached a fever-pitch Saturday when Hockey announcer Ron MacLean told viewers the city  reached the Top 5.

West Kelowna joined Yarmouth, NS, Amos, QB, Stirling-Rawdon, ON and Duck Lake, SK, —earning the second largest share of votes.

Coming second to Stirling, a city he says is “walking distance” to Toronto, isn’t unexpected, but he’d also prefer that British Columbians band together and show they don’t accept the ranking.

Drawing upon the story of a legendary Russia versus Canada hockey showdown that played out decades earlier, Less said Hockey fans should remember the little guy can take down a behemoth when they band together— and in this case, West Kelowna is “the little guy” despite the other city’s smaller population.

“We are the undisputed underdogs in this. The first thing people started saying when they heard we they heard (the rankings) was, ‘wow, you’re going up against all of Ontario,'” he said.

“Now people have to  vote harder than they’ve voted before, and reach out farther than they have before.”

That will require mustering all the community spirit available,  he said, and throwing all efforts into networking and voting.

“We need to bring this back to B.C,” he said.

It’s an idea that’s gained some heavy-hitting support, to boot. The official blog of the Canucks boosted the idea, and on Monday morning the premier, a self proclaimed “hockey mom” threw in her support.

“West Kelowna has had its fair share of challenging times, challenges that, for any other community, could have left lasting scars, but not West Kelowna,” said Christy Clark in a 60 second video.

“Throughout it all, hockey was one of the things that helped keep them together.”

Placing in the Top 5 as of Saturday ensures  West Kelowna $25,000 in arena upgrades in addition to the chance   to host CBC at its rink on March 31 for Kraft Hockeyville’s announcement of its 2012 winner.

Voting was opened to the public Saturday 8 p.m. and continues until 9 p.m. tonight

Residents have two options to vote, either online at www.krafthockeyville.ca or by calling 1-866-533-8066. The 24-7 voting centre is set up at the Comfort Inn in West Kelowna.

Voting is unlimited and anyone from anywhere in the world may vote as often as they’d like.

If West Kelowna is able to win the competition, it will host an NHL exhibition game and receive $100,000 for arena upgrades. It will also be featured on a CBC television broadcast related to the exhibition game in the fall of 2012.