Hay River’s Jeff Ashby has bested participants from Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg to win $20,000 in Kraft’s Hockey Goes On nationwide contest.
The tireless volunteer and a few dozen of his supporters congregated at the Doug Wieterman Hall on April 3 as the grand prize winners were announced on The Sports Network (TSN) during the second intermission of a Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers hockey game.
Although he didn’t win the coveted $100,000 grand prize, it’s a remarkable feat for a volunteer from a town of 3,600 to have beaten participants from cities with a million potential voters.
One grand-prize winner was selected from each of five geographical areas of Canada, and the NWT was grouped with Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. An additional 20 individuals won $20,000 prizes.
The contest recognizes important volunteers who make hockey happen in Canadian communities.
Ashby and everyone else in the room raised their arms in celebration as his name was displayed on the television screen.
Prior to Game 4 of the Northern Hockey Challenge playoffs between the Hay River Huskies and the Yellowknife First Air Flyers, Hay River Minor Hockey Association president Vince McKay presented Ashby with a commemorative banner bearing his name.
Ashby said he brought it home and loves it.
“When I look at it, it makes me feel very proud and happy,” he said. “When I saw my name on the screen, I felt like crying I was so happy.”
The contribution in Ashby’s name will go towards much-needed renovations for the recreation centre.
Lynne Buth, who nominated Ashby for the contest, was in Edmonton with her family on holiday at the time of the announcement. They gathered around the television to witness the important moment.
“I screamed so loud when he won I thought we’d get kicked out,” she said. “I am so proud of our community and all those who took the time to vote. It’s unbelievable that our little town could get more votes than 15 other larger communities.”
Hay River minor hockey’s midget director, Louise Schumann, a close friend of Ashby’s, said that regardless of the outcome of the contest, Hay Riverites knew that Jeff was a winner.
“I am amazed that Jeff made it into the top five in the west division, considering we were up against populations like Edmonton and Calgary,” she said. “It continues to astound me how the people in our community rally for a cause and work together to make it happen. I spoke to so many people who had sore arms and backs from voting so many times and for so many hours.”
Schumann said Ashby was deserving of recognition for all he does as a volunteer for minor hockey and all of Hay River, noting, “The same evening he found out he had won, he was soon back to the task of volunteering and asking what was happening for the minor hockey banquet and how he could help.”
— Myles Dolphin