It would be decidedly surreal to watch two NHL teams square off at Hobbs Sports Center or another local skating rink.
This is not a criticism of the many volunteers who make the Altoona facility run, but it has a seating capacity short of 1,000 in a city of roughly 7,700 people. Nevertheless, that eventuality could come to pass if the rink wins this year’s Kraft Hockeyville competition. The contest requires community stories as entries, and the grand-prize winner is awarded $150,000 in rink improvements and the opportunity to host an NHL game.
Hobbs Ice Center in Eau Claire also has submitted its story for consideration. Last year’s winner, a rink in Clinton, N.Y., hosted an NHL preseason game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Buffalo Sabres. Previous winners were rinks in Belle Vernon, Pa. (2017); Marquette, Mich. (2016); and Johnstown, Pa. (2015).
Donn Dexter has fond memories of his son playing hockey in Altoona. He’s been helping out at the facility for years and authored the Altoona rink’s submission in the Kraft Hockeyville promotion.
“Volunteers have been making this rink a great place for kids for many years,” he said. “It helps mold their character and helps them develop. You learn so much about hard work, leadership and cooperation. Watching kids grow up and improve in their sport were some of the best years of my life.
“I would like to see that other kids have that same opportunity.”
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Judges assess the community stories, which account for 80 percent of an application’s score in the Kraft contest. The remainder is decided by “rally activity” in which points are awarded when community members visit the facility’s entry page and upload photos, add notes, share it on Twitter, etc.
Dexter’s submission answered the following questions: “Tells us about your community’s spirit as well as its passion for hockey. Can you describe examples of how this came to life?,” “Tell us about our rink. Why is it important to your community and how would the $150,00 be best used to update the rink?” and “Why should your community be the next Kraft Hockeyville USA 2019?”
Dexter highlighted the fact that the rink is supported entirely by volunteers and that the top priority would be “a permanent cooling system in the ground to ensure high-quality ice for our skaters.”
He added that local skaters had gone on to win a girls state hockey title and some boys had developed into Division I and even professional players. One example is Michael Kapla, who got his start in Altoona and advanced all the way to the NHL.
“But the real success and joy for us has been seeing boys and girls putting in the time and effort to excel in their sport,” Dexter wrote. “The life lessons and lasting friendships are priceless.”
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Nominations are accepted through March 2, and the top four finalists will be announced March 24. After two days of voting, winners will be revealed March 31.
The grand-prize winner will not be the only rink to benefit financially. First place is worth $30,000 in rink upgrades and two second-place winners each get $10,000 in upgrades.
Dexter continues to play hockey with the Mighty Docs — he sheepishly says he’s getting slower but is “enthusiastic and passionate, if not particularly good” — an adult team founded in 1999 that’s helped out with refurbishing the Altoona facility and training young skaters.
The site also has hosted Minnesota NHL alumni teams several times. Steve Carlson, who memorably starred in the 1977 comedy “Slapshot,” made an appearance for an event.
But in the end, it’s about the younger generations of skaters, Dexter said.
“We hope this rink will be here to provide the opportunity to skate and play hockey for years to come,” Dexter wrote in the closing of his application. “Winning the Kraft Hockeyville Challenge will make this a reality.”
Marlaire can be reached at 715-833-9215, email@example.com or @marlaires on Twitter.