East Grand Forks city leaders discussed last week plans to finance much-needed maintenance at the East Grand Forks Civic Center.
On Sunday, they found out they might get help from an unlikely source.
East Grand Forks was revealed as one of four finalists in Kraft's Hockeyville USA competition. At a minimum, that guarantees the venue a five-figure dollar amount from Kraft Heinz earmarked for arena upgrades.
The winner will get $150,000. The runner-up gets $30,000. The other two finalists get $10,000.
The other finalists are the El Paso (Texas) Event Center, the Wichita (Kan.) Ice Center and the Wildcat Centre Arena in River Falls, Wis.
The winner will be determined by online voting at krafthockeyville.com between 6 a.m. on Aug. 29 through 10 a.m. on Aug. 30. Fans and communities will be allowed an unlimited number of votes during that 28-hour period.
The winner will be announced Aug. 30.
The winner also will get an NHL Community Celebration, which will be announced at a later date.
In the past, the winner's venue also has hosted an NHL preseason game. Last year, the St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings played a preseason game in Calumet, Mich., home of the 2019 Kraft Hockeyville USA winner.
Other previous winners have been Clinton, N.Y. (2018), Belle Vernon, Pa. (2017), Marquette, Mich. (2016) and Johnstown, Pa. (2015).
The announcement of the finalists did not mention an NHL preseason game, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, the start of the next NHL season is still up in the air.
"This year's compelling stories from some of America's hockey communities were some of the best we've seen to date," said Magen Hanrahan, vice president of media and marketing services at Kraft Heinz. "We're excited to watch the country virtually rally around the top four finalists and inspire more local communities as much as the top four have inspired our judges."
The four finalist cities were announced during NBC's Stanley Cup Playoff broadcast Sunday between the Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens.
Last week, East Grand Forks put forth a $13.42-million list of ideas to upgrade the baseball fields at Stauss Park and fix the most pressing problems at the East Grand Forks Civic Center and VFW Memorial Arena.
At the core of the list is an estimated $3.4 million to replace the ailing ice plants at the two arenas. Both are decades old and use r22, a refrigerant that is in short supply after an Obama-era Environmental Protection Order made it illegal to produce or import to the United States.
Beyond that, other work includes $940,000 to make both buildings safer and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and $3.27 million to reconstruct their parking lots.
In all, that work would cost an estimated $11 million in 2021, city staff said.
Rich hockey tradition
Despite the aging arena, East Grand Forks hockey has thrived in recent years.
The prep boys team won back-to-back Minnesota Class A state championships in 2014 and 2015 -- its first two ever -- while sending numerous players to the NCAA Division-I level.
A former Green Wave player has been the captain at UND in four of the last five years with Gage Ausmus holding the role in the NCAA national championship-winning season of 2015-16 and again in 2016-17. Colton Poolman was the captain in 2018-19 and 2019-20, signing an NHL deal with the Calgary Flames in March.
Colton's older brother, Tucker Poolman, became the first East Grand Forks hockey player to play in the NHL when he made his debut in October 2017 with the Winnipeg Jets. Tucker remains with the Jets.
On the girls side, Haley Mack became the first NWHL draft pick from East Grand Forks this summer, when she was selected in the fourth round by the Minnesota Whitecaps. Mack excelled at Bemidji State, where her East Grand Forks prep teammate, Mak Langei, also plays.