SYLVAN LAKE, Alberta -- This day was created as a celebration of hockey in small towns across Canada, so it was fitting the NHL preseason game at the end of 2014 Kraft Hockeyville was complete with a game-winning goal that was manufactured in Alberta.
Curtis Glencross, whose parents live in a house on Sylvan Lake, tipped a shot from Caroline, Alberta, native Kris Russell in overtime to give the Calgary Flames a 4-3 victory against the Arizona Coyotes at Sylvan Lake Multiplex.
Glencross and Russell were two of several players in this game with Alberta ties, but they were two of the three that have spent a lot of time working on their craft in this town.
"[Russell] and I both skated in the old barn quite a bit back in the day," Glencross said. "He made a great shot and I just got lucky enough to get my stick on it. ... It was a nice shot by [Russell]. He put it right in the spot we practice every day."
In fact, the first time the younger Burke put on the goaltending pads in a competitive game of ice hockey was next door to the Multiplex at the old Sylvan Lake Arena, when he was a pupil at the Sylvan Lake Hockey School.
"It's just been a complete success, beyond our wildest dreams," said town councilman Graham Parsons, who helped start the hockey school 40 years ago and was part of the committee that helped Sylvan Lake win the Kraft Hockeyville competition. "We knew it would be good, but every event had great weather. There was great enthusiasm, great community building. It is an even we will never, ever forget."
This was a four-day festival, starting Sunday with a fan fest down by the lake. There were youth clinics, an officials clinic and alumni appearances.
When the Flames arrived Wednesday morning for their pregame skate, hundreds of fans were waiting for them. While the rink could only accommodate slightly less than 1,000 fans for the game, another couple thousand were outside watching on a large screen and enjoying their day in the national spotlight.
"I told our players to remember those people who come to the game," Calgary coach Bob Hartley said. "They had to fight real hard to get this game. There was, I'm sure, lots of other great cities that could have this game but since it is very close to our market we owed this game to our fans. They were great. There was lots of Flames fans in the stands and they went home happy. It was a great day.
"This is a minor hockey rink and this is where we all started. Brian McGrattan started somewhere. Curtis Glencross started somewhere. David Wolf started somewhere. I started somewhere. To see all those volunteers work so hard to get the game and worked so hard to make this day a great event. Kraft and the NHL, they do it right. This morning we came in at 7:30 and it was already packed in front of the rink. ... It's Christmas here tonight."
Players signed autographs and posed for pictures before the morning skate and after the game. Forty fans received autographed jerseys shortly after the game ended.
Before the game, a few of the Alberta-born players talked about what this kind of event would have meant to them when they were the wide-eyed kids who idolized NHL players.
"The [kids] will remember this event for the rest of their lives," Parsons said. "Just like us old guys will too. It is the biggest event in this town ever. It brought the community together. We are a young community. Eight or nine thousand people have moved here in the last eight or nine years, which means they're all from somewhere else. When you're from somewhere else you need an identity and this event gave that to them. Now they're part of this community just as much as anyone."