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Editorial: Islanders come together to host Hockeyville

['It might not be the same feeling as wining it, but it’s close. Donna Chaisson lets out a whoop as she gets her moment with the Stanley Cup during a pep rally Monday afternoon in O’Leary.']
['It might not be the same feeling as wining it, but it’s close. Donna Chaisson lets out a whoop as she gets her moment with the Stanley Cup during a pep rally Monday afternoon in O’Leary.']

An NHL exhibition hockey game between the Ottawa Senators and the New Jersey Devils.

A cheque for $100,000 from Kraft Heinz to go towards improvements at the local arena.

And proceeds from merchandise sales.

Those are some of the prizes the small but mighty community of O’Leary has earned by winning the title of Kraft Hockeyville 2017.

RELATED: NHL stars on ice create exciting Hockeyville celebration in P.E.I.

But they have won so much more.

Pride in their community was on full display over the last few days as O’Leary hosted everyone from NHL players and coaches, Sportsnet broadcasters, to elementary school students and minor hockey players – as well as a Don Cherry look-a-like or two.

Orville Willis said winning the Hockeyville title was “the best thing that ever happened to O’Leary.”

But the prize didn’t just happen to O’Leary. It happened because of O’Leary.

Kraft Heinz officials didn’t just pluck the name of the town out of a barrel or throw a dart at a map. They awarded the winner based on the hard work and enthusiasm put into the bid by a tireless team of volunteers.

Whether it’s organizing pot luck suppers or medical benefit dances, ceilidhs, parades or even elections, Islanders know how to mobilize their fellow citizens to come together for a cause. Particularly rural Islanders.

RELATED: ‘This is a big deal’ P.E.I. fans say about their Hockeyville experience

Premier Wade MacLauchlan noted this earlier this year when he announced that government would not follow the recommendations of the Public Schools Branch and that no schools would close.

“Islanders came together to share the passion they have for their communities and their desire to see them grow and prosper. We applaud Islanders and communities for this passion and are glad they are up for the challenge,” Premier MacLauchlan said at the April news conference.

One of those rural schools on the list for closure prior to the April schools branch meeting: Bloomfield Elementary School, serving children in the O’Leary area.

“We want to channel the passion and commitment that were displayed throughout (the school review process) and support the challenge Islanders have given themselves to grow our communities, local economies and population,” MacLauchlan said at the time.

At the same time parents and community leaders in Prince County were planning rallies, engaging in letter-writing campaigns and colouring in posters for the very serious project of saving their rural schools, they were devoting some of their energy for what some may regard as superfluous venture: becoming Hockeyville.

Now known in the community as the Fab Five, Della Sweet, Billy MacKendrick, Dean Getson, Tammy Rix and JoAnne Wallace speerheaded an effort that swept up all of Prince Edward Island into a well-oiled voting machine.

Their O’Leary Hockeyville Helpers Facebook group earned more than 21,000 members. They had voting stations set up at the curling club and legion, as well as support from the O’Leary Christian Education Centre and SOS Computer Solutions. Volunteers logged hundreds of hours clicking “vote” for O’Leary.

This past weekend in O’Leary and last night at Credit Union Place in Summerside, the smiles and cheers prove that hard work paid off.

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