‘It’s been an incredible journey’: West Lorne hosts Kraft Hockeyville

The small town of West Lorne is getting a taste of the big leagues when the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres hit the ice in nearby St. Thomas to celebrate the community’s Kraft Hockeyville win.

West Lorne was crowned as the winner of 2023 Kraft Hockeyville in April, winning $250,000 in much needed arena upgrades. The prize also came with an additional $10,000 in youth hockey equipment, and the municipality of West Elgin donated $150,000 to the community as well.

Part of the win includes hosting a pre-season exhibition game, but the game will be hosted in St. Thomas instead of West Lorne, as the West Elgin Arena can only seat 377 people, while St. Thomas’ Joe Thornton Arena has a capacity of 2,500.

“It’s been an incredible journey,” Jessica Small, one of the organizers of West Lorne’s Kraft Hockeyville bid, said.

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“Our community coming together and raising money, and now experiencing this with all our community members … just a really, really exciting time for our community.”

On Tuesday, the organizing committee offered a free skate, food trucks, games, and a meet and greet with former NHLers Darcy Tucker (Leafs) and Rob Ray (Sabres). Small reports that thousands of people were there to help celebrate the win.

“We had the Stanley Cup make an appearance and surprise all of our local schools as well as a couple of special stops and then it ended up at the community celebration last night. So, it was just an incredible time.”

This morning, hundreds of fans lined up outside of Joe Thornton Arena to get autographs from NHL players as they arrived for tonight’s game.

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Tickets to Wednesday night’s game were provided to the community’s minor hockey league families, then the rest were awarded in a local lottery draw.

West Lorne beat out Maple Ridge, B.C., St. Anne, Man., and Saint-Anselme, Que., for the title of Kraft Hockeyville this year. Small credits the win to West Lorne’s “underdog status” as a town of roughly 1,300 and the community members who helped get the word out about the bid.

Maryjo Tait (Left) and Jessica Small (Right) are both the co-chairs of the West Lorne Kraft Hockeyville committee. Jim Kelly/FM96

“The bigger reach that you have in the local community and surrounding areas, especially within the hockey world, the better. It’s a great route to go because everyone’s going to vote for the underdog and rally behind a community in an arena that really needs these upgrades.”

One aspect of the West Lorne win that community residents hold close is the passing of West Elgin Mayor Duncan McPhail hours before West Lorne was named a finalist. His widow, Norma McPhail, cast the first vote for the town’s bid.

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“He was our number one advocate and fan for West Lorne minor hockey. He would be ecstatic,” Small said Wednesday. “Tonight, we’re going to honour him in a very special way, his family is going to be there. He would just be over the moon for what we’ve done for this community.”

Wednesday’s game begins at 6:30 p.m.

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