It’s official. Stirling-Rawdon, Ont., has earned the title of Kraft Hockeyville 2012.
After weeks of campaigning and national voting, Canada picked Stirling-Rawdon — with nearly four million votes — the winner. The community celebrated while it was announced on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night.
Stirling-Rawdon will host a 2012-2013 NHL pre-season game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets next fall. The Ontario town will also receive $100,000 in arena upgrade money from Kraft Canada, $10,000 in food bank donations, plus a visit from HNIC.
With a final vote tally of 3,986,769, Stirling-Rawdon beat out West Kelowna, B.C. (2,789,594), Amos, Que. (2,207,511), Yarmouth, N.S. (1,655,475) and Duck Lake, Sask. (903,260).
"I don't know how we got those votes but this crowd is passionate about hockey. This community came together," Stirling-Rawdon Kraft Hockeyville chairperson Cindy Brandt told CBC Sports' Steve Armitage in front of a loud gathering of residents following Saturday's announcement.
Said Maple Leafs president/general manager Brian Burke: "We are thrilled to be participating in Kraft Hockeyville 2012 and look forward to an exciting visit with the members of Leafs Nation in Stirling-Rawdon next season."
The four runner-up communities each receive $25,000 for improvements to their local rinks.
Negotiations are underway, said Brandt, to have the NHL exhibition game contested at the 3,257-seat Yardmen Arena in Belleville, Ont. — which boasts an Olympic-sized ice surface — and is home to the Ontario Hockey League's Bulls.
With a population of 1,500, Stirling-Rawdon is the birthplace of Rob Ray, a former NHLer with the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators.
As a tribute to rink manager Barry Wilson, who died suddenly last spring, the tiny town assembled a team to enter Kraft Hockeyville 2012 with the hope of upgrading its Stirling District Recreation Centre — a mission started by Wilson.
Brandt said a new entrance area at Stirling District Recreation Centre would be among the upgrades. Also on the list is new dressing rooms, a girl's dressing room and training area.
"This will mean that we can finish what Barry started … and this community will be so proud when this is all finished," Brandt said.
More than 11 million votes were registered for the Top 5 communities between March 17 and March 20, with Stirling-Rawdon emerging as the seventh Kraft Hockeyville winner.
"Great things happen when a community focuses its passion on a cause as exciting as Kraft Hockeyville," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. "The National Hockey League is extremely pleased to join Kraft in supporting this outstanding program, which ensures the longevity of a neighbourhood rink and creates a legacy of hockey opportunities."