Knoxville's Cool Sports vies for national title of "Hockeyville"

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Could Knoxville be the next Hockeyville, USA? Well, yes--with enough stories and pictures from the folks who know it best.

Kraft Hockeyville is looking for its next home, and it could be Knoxville. The competition will end with four finalist communities that have been selected because they successfully rallied together behind "an amazing story," according to the Kraft Hockeyville website. Those communities will go head to head, with America voting on who will take the grand prize.

"They're looking for the next Hockeyville, which is a community with deep roots in hockey, passion for the sport, youth programs and everything from top to bottom," Mike Craigen, assistant hockey director for Cool Sports, Home of the Icearium, said. "It's a way for the hockey community to rally together and show the rest of the country some cities and areas of programs that weren't known of."

The grand prize includes an NHL pre-season game played in the community that wins, and a $150,000 prize for rink upgrades. Second place would receive $30,000 in rink upgrades, and third and fourth place communities would receive $10,000 in rink upgrades.

However, before communities can be chosen as finalists, they need their communities' support--that's where East Tennesseans come in. Cool Sports needs their community to rally together in support of the national initiative.

"We threw our name in the mix this year because we feel like we have an awesome story to tell. This is a nontraditional market, but [...] hockey is popular here and it's not a fad. I think it's something that will continue to grow," Craigen said.

Craigen said Knoxville has more than 50 years of hockey in its roots.

"The fact we've had hockey and youth programs here in this area in what we refer to as a nontraditional market for that long is pretty amazing," he said. "It's quite a story to tell, when people think of the Volunteers and baseball and football. Not very often do you hear about hockey, but we've caught a bit of a wave here with the Predators and the Ice Bears. [...] This place has a lot of tradition and a lot of stories to tell about it."

Should they win, Cool Sports' hockey program has big plans for the prizes. The $150,000 would be put towards the ice sheet, the Zamboni machine, the locker room, and some of the viewing areas, including the benches and bleachers.

"We'd like to make it more comfortable, a little more viewer friendly," Craigen said. "It's a smaller venue and family friendly. We want to make those improvements and continue for families to come here and enjoy their time here."

Before they win the prize, though, Cool Sports needs their biggest fans in the community to step up with support. To nominate your favorite rink, visit the Kraft Hockeyville website, find your rink and share your stories and pictures. Rink nominations last on the Kraft Hockeyville website through Saturday, March 10.

Judging lasts from March 11 until March 16, and the finalists will be announced on Saturday, March 31.

"It would mean everything to us," Craigen said. "We are so close already, and people who are close to the hockey scene here know how passionate our hockey family is. We think some recognition is deserved from the rest of the country and the hockey community."

Find your rink and vote on Kraft Hockeyville's website here.