After multiple nominations for the 2019 Kraft Hockeyville title, ceaseless promotion by campaign organizers Kathy Heilman and Helen Urlacher, and hours of repetitive online voting by residents, former residents, Saskatchewanians and others last March, Wilkie was one of four finalists nation-wide.
Although Wilkie was not named Kraft Hockeyville, finishing in the top four did bring its rewards, including a $25,000 cheque to go towards arena improvements, $10,000 in hockey equipment for local youth playing minor hockey and 10,000 pounds of food from Kraft Heinz for the Wilkie food bank. Formal presentations of these awards were made at the Saskcan Community Centre in Wilkie Nov. 3.
The celebratory afternoon started with Wilkie recreation director, Lori Fenrich, acting as MC and welcoming all in attendance.
Mike Sillinger, a Saskatchewan born and raised hockey player who played 17 seasons in the NHL, attended the event on behalf of the National Hockey League Players’ Association. Sillinger congratulated Wilkie on making the top four and formally presented Wilkie Minor Hockey president Wade Bleier with a hockey bag of equipment.
During his remarks, Sillinger commented on the familiar feel of the small-town arena, noting he started his own hockey career in Saskatchewan rinks such as the one in Wilkie.
In her introduction of Sillinger, Fenrich explained, “NHLPA Goals & Dreams is a charitable initiative that provides complete sets of brand new hockey equipment, to deserving grassroots hockey programs. The initiative was established over 19 years ago, and has since provided more than 80,000 children, across 34 countries, the opportunity to play the game of hockey. Since inception, Goals & Dreams has contributed over $24 million in an effort to grow the game globally.”
Rhett Kappel of Saskatoon spoke on behalf of Kraft Heinz Canada, saying “We know that it takes a lot to become a finalist in the Kraft Hockeyville competition, and it’s a true testament to the love of the sport, passion and true community spirit of Wilkie. The program received thousands of entries from communities across Canada, and to rise to the top four is an amazing accomplishment that everyone in this community should be very proud of.”
Along with the hockey equipment, cheque presentation and announcement of the food donation, a surprise was in store for Wilkie as a Kraft Hockeyville Finalist banner was unveiled. This banner will hang in the arena along with Wilkie’s multiple league and provincial championship banners.
Following the formal speeches and presentations, Sillinger signed autographs and chatted with those in attendance, before putting on an Outlaws jersey and a pair of skates – borrowed from a member of the Wilkie Senior Outlaws team – and joining local children on the ice for some shinny.
After the afternoon’s festivities, Sillinger drove to Medicine Hat, Alta., where his youngest son, Cole, is playing in a U17 international hockey tournament.
The Town of Wilkie has a total of $75,000 to go towards arena improvements as Brett Wilson and the Nelson family also donated $25,000 each, following the final announcement March 30 and the province-wide publicity for Wilkie during the voting period.
The Nov. 3 formal presentations also brought a TSN camera crew to Wilkie, for the third time this year.
In an interview following the presentations, Fenrich said the work on the arena will be done next spring and summer, after the completion of this winter’s hockey season.