The Joe Thornton Community Centre arena in St. Thomas. Photo from Joe Thornton Community Centre arena in St. Thomas. Photo from

NHL preseason game goes Wednesday in St. Thomas

NHL players, alumni, and the Stanley Cup will be thrilling southwestern Ontario hockey fans as West Lorne cashes in on its Kraft Hockeyville win this week.

The town of 1,300 people southwest of London won the 2023 competition in April, which entitled it to host a preseason NHL game. However, with limited seating at its aging arena, the game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres will instead be played in St. Thomas. That game goes at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the Joe Thornton Community Centre, which has seating capacity for 2,200 people, with additional standing room space for 300.

Tickets for the exhibition game were awarded to players in the Western Minor Hockey Association, the West Elgin Skating Club, and local residents lucky enough to win a community draw.

Those who didn't get a ticket to the Leafs-Sabres match-up can still rub elbows with some NHLers Tuesday. A community celebration is taking place at the West Lorne arena and nearby park from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. NHL alumni Darcy Tucker and Rob Ray will be on hand for a public meet-and-greet skate.

The Stanley Cup will also be on display after having made the rounds throughout the community earlier in the day. Celebration organizers have said the Cup will be taken to a Dutton retirement home Tuesday morning, then the home of an unnamed retired coach, followed by four schools in West Lorne and Dutton-Dunwich before arriving at Miller Park.

West Lorne beat out Maple Ridge, British Columbia, St. Anne, Manitoba, and Saint-Anselme, Quebec to be named this year's Kraft Hockeyville winner. In addition to the celebration and preseason game, the community won $250,000 for upgrades to its 55-year-old area and $10,000 in youth hockey equipment. The prize money will be put toward a new arena front entrance with more accessible larger doors, new dressing rooms to accommodate more players, and an expanded warm room for families and fans.

This is not the first time a small southwestern Ontario town has played host to big-league hockey. In 2018, Lucan was crowned Kraft Hockeyville winner and hosted a preseason game between the Leafs and Ottawa Senators.

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