Elsipogtog First Nation anxiously awaits announcement of Kraft Hockeyville winner

Malian Levi (left) and Jaime Carpenter are two organizing committee members for Elsipogtog’s Hockeyville bid. They hope to win $250,000 for arena upgrades from the national contest. Callum Smith

A few community members from the Elsipogtog First Nation made big efforts to help rally others after a devastating blow in September 2020, when fire had caused major damage to the local arena.

“The community was devastated to hear that our rink was gone because the hockey season was starting up,” Malian Levi says.

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Levi, along with three others, compiled local stories and memories of the Chief Young Eagle Recreation Centre and submitted a bid to Kraft Hockeyville. The annual national contest awards one community in Canada with a pre-season NHL game. But perhaps more importantly, $250,000 in arena upgrades.

Walking into the rink, you can still smell smoke, there’s soot everywhere, and shattered glass around the boards and windows.

The local organizing group was thrilled to learn their rink had made it to the top four finalists. Voting came to a close at 6:00 p.m. AST Saturday. The announcement of the winning community will take place at about 9:00 p.m. AST during Sportsnet’s Hockey Night in Canada broadcast.

Read more: Voting opens for Kraft Hockeyville with Lumsden, Sask. in running

The support came from near and far.

“We have a lot of people from Saskatchewan, from Ontario, from Manitoba voting for us. My boyfriend’s mom got up at 5:30 a.m. and voted until she fell back asleep — and now she’s up, voting again,” Jaime Carpenter, another committee member, told Global News Saturday morning.

But the voting period lasted less than two days, so community members spent the night at the local school hunkered down, casting as many virtual ballots as possible.

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Among those hoping for a win is Trey Lewis, a Memorial Cup champion with the Halifax Mooseheads. Lewis grew up near the reserve and spent a lot of time at the rink.

“This rink has been crucial for my development as a hockey player,” he says.

Click to play video: 'Elsipogtog First Nation in the Running for Major National Prize' Elsipogtog First Nation in the Running for Major National Prize
Elsipogtog First Nation in the Running for Major National Prize – Mar 31, 2021
“[But] the rink here in Elsi… it’s not just for hockey,” Lewis says. “It’s a community place where people come and get together.”

The rink was relied on heavily in the past few years due to a fire at Richibucto’s rink, Lewis says.

Banners hang roadside with hockey icons from the community.

Read more: ‘He would be so proud’: N.B. community rallies to support rink project following tragedy

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People are also rallying behind Craig “Jumbo” Sock, who is presumed deceased after a crab fishing boat capsized last weekend.

“Hockey is… [Sock’s] biggest passion,” says Carpenter. “He was a player, his son was a player, his grandchildren are going to be players.”

Renous, N.B., won the national prize in 2019, earning much-needed upgrades after the heartbreaking story of Thomas Dunn surfaced and was part of that community’s bid. The 14-year-old died following a dirt bike crash in 2018.

But for Elsipogtog, it’s about rebuilding a rink, rallying the region, and bringing the community space back to life.

“Winning that would just be amazing for everybody,” Levi says, “especially the kids here.”

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