By Sam Laskaris
The ultimate goal was not achieved, but making the Top 10 in the annual Kraft Hockeyville contest was a positive experience for Maskwacis, drawing in a vast number of supporters.
The announcement earlier this month that Maskwacis was in the Top 10 sent the community into a two-day voting frenzy on March 12 and March 13 to help get the community into the top two finalists.
People were allowed to vote online an unlimited number of times during those two days.
More than a dozen Maskwacis students had a marathon voting session at their school, even staying overnight to continue their constant voting.
“There was one individual who said they voted 3,200 times. And there were many others that voted more than 1,000 times. It was very exciting. Everybody was getting on board,” said Tara Cutarm, the communications director for the Ermineskin Cree Nation.
“It was crazy on Twitter and social media,” “It was very exciting and very fun. Everybody had a good time.”
Even some well-known personalities threw their support behind Maskwacis. Those who were encouraging people to vote for the Ermineskin Cree Nation rink was former National Hockey League star Reggie Leach, Cree comedian Don Burnstick and Ashley Callingbull, a former Mrs. Universe.
Member of Parliament Blaine Calkins, who represents the riding of Red Deer/Lacombe, wrote a song and posted it online throwing his support behind Maskwacis.
“It was pretty incredible to have them jump on board and try to spread the word,” Cutarm said of all those who were lending their support.
Cutarm said even people from as far away as New Zealand sent inspirational messages and voted for Maskwacis. Other out-of-country voters were from the United States and Europe.
The two finalists were announced during the first intermission of a national broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada this past Saturday. Maskwacis, however, was not one of the two finalists chosen. Those who did make the top two were the small Saskatchewan town of Ituna and O’Leary, a town in Prince Edward Island.
“I think everybody was just happy that we made it that far,” she said. “That we got through to the Top 10 was something,” said Cutarm.
Officials from Maskwacis are pleased their central Alberta community was thrust into the national spotlight for a bit of time for some positive reasons. Maskwacis, formerly known as Hobbema, consists of four First Nations. In recent years it has been plagued by some violent crimes and youth suicides.
The two finalists will both receive $100,000 for arena upgrades in their community. The eventual winning location in the Hockeyville contest will also earn the right to host a National Hockey League pre-season game later this year.
The other communities who advanced to the Top 10 will receive $25,000 each to be spent on arena upgrades.
Maskwacis will be spending its money to improve conditions at the Neyaskweyahk Arena, located on the Ermineskin Cree Nation.
More than 2,900 communities from across Canada had been nominated in this year’s contest.
Contest officials did not announce the number of votes each community received. The Ermineskin Cree Nation was the only First Nation to crack the Top 10.
Cutarm said there is no way of determining how many people from other First Nations across Canada had thrown their support behind Maskwacis.
“We shared the information with the (First Nation) administrations across Canada and with their hockey associations as well,” she said. “We don’t know where it went from there after that.”
Cutarm said one of the most positive aspects of the contest was how people in her community bonded together for a cause.
Shelley Yellowbird, the wife of the community’s former chief, was also impressed.
“She said it was one of the best initiatives for our First Nation in a long time,” Cutarm said.
Ermineskin Cree Nation officials had thought about having members of the community watch this past Saturday’s announcement en masse. But there was one huge obstacle with that idea.
“We wanted to have something at the arena,” Cutarm said. “But there is no Wi-Fi there.”
It has yet to be determined exactly what upgrades Maskwacis officials will be making on their local rink.