Kraft Hockeyville USA 5th Year Anniversey
written by: David Nicoletti
In honor of it being the fifth year anniversary from the first ever Kraft Hockeyville USA, allow me to take you on a journey throughout the past years of the Kraft Hockeyville USA contest and it's relation to the NAHL.
For those of you who don’t know, Kraft Hockeyville is an annual competition sponsored by Kraft Heinz, the National Hockey League and the NHL Players' Association, in which communities compete to demonstrate their commitment to the sport of ice hockey. The winning community gets a cash prize dedicated to upgrading their local home arena, as well as the opportunity to host an NHL pre-season game. Runners-up also get smaller cash prizes to upgrade their ice rinks.
The contest is normally held in the winter and spring during the later half of the NHL regular season. With the pre-season game usually held in September before the following regular season. If the winning arena is not adequately equipped to host the pre-season game, it is then played at an alternative site nearby.
An example of this we can look back at was during Kraft Hockeyville USA in 2017. The winner, Rostraver Ice Garden in Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania. Despite being large by community arena standards and having hosted professional sports in the preceding decade, Rostraver Ice Garden was deemed not fit to host a pre-season game.
As a result, the contest between the St. Louis Blues and the Pittsburgh Penguins on September 24, 2017 was played at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry, PA; located in Butler County.
But getting back to the subject on the NAHL having connections with Kraft Hockeyville USA. Throughout the years, there have been a total of six NAHL arenas that have connections with Kraft Hockeyville USA as being top finalist to have their rink and hometown be forever remembered as a part of Kraft Hockeyville USA.
It's only fitting if we start off with the first ever winners of Kraft Hockeyville USA; Us, the Cambria County War Memorial Arena in Johnstown, PA and the home to our Johnstown Tomahawks.
Johnstown was named the winner on May 2nd, 2015, receiving $150,000 for arena upgrades, as well as hosting the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins for an NHL pre-season game which took place on September 29th, 2015. The game was televised in the United States on NBCSN. The Penguins won this game 4-2 over the Lightning in front of the packed War Memorial crowd.
There were two other NAHL arenas that were named finalists during Kraft Hockeyville USA in 2015. Pullar Stadium in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan which was home to the Soo Eagles. As well as the Big Dipper Ice Arena, current home of the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
The next year in 2016, Kraft Hockeyville USA returned for the second year. The Kraft Hockeyville USA finalist were the Lakeview Arena in Marquette, Michigan as well as the Rushmore Thunderdome in Rapid City, South Dakota.
Marquette was named the winner on April 30th, 2016, receiving $150,000 in upgrades, and hosted the Carolina Hurricanes and the Buffalo Sabres on October 4th, 2016.
Lakeview Arena has an NAHL connection from 2006 to 2010 as it was the former home of the Marquette Rangers for four seasons until they relocated to Flint, Michigan to become the Michigan Warriors for five seasons. The franchise would fold after the 2014-15 season.
The Maysa Arena located in Minot, North Dakota was named as a top 10 finalist for Kraft Hockeyville USA 2017. The Maysa Arena is currently home to Minot Minotauros of the NAHL. Since 2011, the Minotauros have been playing in the NAHL. They currently play out of the Central Division. They've appeared in seven NAHL Robertson Cup Playoffs in the teams nine year history.
George's Pond at Hirsch Memorial Coliseum located in Shreveport, Louisiana was named one of the four finalists of Kraft Hockeyville USA in 2018. George’s Pond is the current home to the NAHL’s Shreveport Mudbugs.
The Mudbugs have been a part of the NAHL since the 2016-17 season. In their five year history, they have appeared in every NAHL Robertson Cup Playoff during the team's existence into the NAHL even going as far as winning the Robertson Cup in their second NAHL season in 2017-18 when they defeated the Minot Minotauros 2-1 to claim the crown as champions.
Now for the current year, Kraft Hockeyville USA 2020. El Paso County Coliseum located in El Paso, Texas was named one of the four finalists for this year's Kraft Hockeyville USA. The Coliseum is getting ready to be the upcoming home of the El Paso Rhinos during the NAHL’s 2021-22 season. The Rhinos will compete in the South Division.
Ladies and gentlemen, that is a look back at all the NAHL connections with Kraft Hockeyville USA. From the Cambria County War Memorial in Johnstown, Pennsylvania to what might be the El Paso County Coliseum in El Paso, Texas. These arenas and towns show that they not only have a good hockey team playing for the city, but all around the community, they have the heart of a hockey town that no one can imagine. Best of luck to El Paso as they will be fighting for this year's Kraft Hockeyville title.
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