BY CRYSTAL RHYNO/Advocate staff

Sylvan scores Hockeyville

Sylvan Lake is Kraft Hockeyville 2014.

Sylvan Lake is Kraft Hockeyville 2014.

Thunderous applause and cheers echoed through the multiplex when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman revealed the town had earned the coveted title and trophy on Saturday.

Mayor Sean McIntyre lead the jammed packed arena with a “Go Lakers Go” chant after thanking the Central Alberta communities, residents and the volunteers.

McIntyre said he is proud to be a Sylvan Laker and grateful for community.

“There’s nothing that anyone could have given us that is worth the community unity that we have seen that is worth the togetherness and that is worth the united effort,” said McIntyre. “We are just so pleased and grateful and so proud to be Sylvan Lakers.”

As a finalist the town had already earned $100,000 in arena upgrades. With the title comes the chance to host a pre-season NHL game – Phoenix Coyotes versus the Calgary Flames – on Sept. 24. Coyote defenceman Derek Morris, a Sylvan Lake product, is likely be a hometown favourite.

Sylvan Lake received more than 2.5 million votes defeating runner up Kingston, N.S. by 108,164 votes. The Eastern Canadian town will also receive $100,000 for rink upgrades.

McIntyre said there’s no way that 2.5 million were cast inside Sylvan Lake. McIntyre said he was floored by the support across the country.

Sylvan Laker Melody Gillespie said her figure-skating family voted at least 5,000 times in the span of two days. Gillespie and her daughters enjoyed a full day of celebrations starting at the pancake breakfast to the big reveal late Saturday afternoon.

“It’s just awesome community spirit,” said Gillespie. “It’s unbelievable. And a great ending.”

An emotional Sheila Verhage said the town’s residents worked so hard to earn this title.

Like the Gillespies she sat herself at her computer and voted at least 4,000 times.

“Oh my gosh I started to cry,” said Verhage. “I was so happy for us.”

Win or lose, the town started partying early with a pancake breakfast, road hockey, barbecue, parade and other activities leading up to the announcement.

Hockey lovers wore their NHL best sporting Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs and other jerseys.

Even former Flames centre Craig Conroy, who works in the Flames organization, took in the festivities after a phone call from the volunteer committee.

Conroy said he was happy to share some of the community spirit and talk to residents. Conroy said it is wonderful to see Alberta communities pull together.

“I couldn’t believe how loud it was in there,” said Conroy. “It gave me goosebumps when they won.”

Sylvan Lake Coun. Graham Parsons only heard the screams of joy when Bettman announced the winning community.

“It’s just unbelievable,” said Parsons. “Words just can’t describe it.”

Parsons said they thought they had it in the bag because of the tremendous support across Canada until he got the jitters about an hour before the announcement. In January, the town’s 40-year-old arena’s roof collapsed under a heavy dump of snow.

Parsons told the Advocate that it was a sad end for the arena, which has been home to a long-running hockey school and has hosted tens of thousands of youngsters over the years.

The arena was due for demolition in a couple of years to make way for a new multiplex.

Losing the landmark in the community drew the town closer together as it rallied to win the contest. An active online campaign drew attention around Canada from former hockey players and other users of the ice.

“We’re still a small town but we’re a bigger small town,” said Parsons.

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