Overwhelming support earned the community the July 31 visit
One of the biggest names in hockey, Chicago Backhawks captain Jonathan Toews, has a growing list of accomplishments.
© Photo by Ty Dunham/The Aurora
Labrador City Canadian Store owner and operator Chris Kondracki expects upwards of 2,000 people to come out for the opportunity to meet NHL star Jonathan Toews on his day-long visit to Labrador West July 31.q
He has won two Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals, was the third youngest captain in NHL history, and is the youngest player to join the “Triple Gold” club.
Soon he’ll have something new to add to his list: a visit to Labrador West.
Toews will visit the area July 31 to meet the residents responsible for bringing him courtesy of Canadian Tire’s Red Ball Campaign for the company’s Jumpstart program, which donates money to local children’s sports groups.
The Labrador City store competed against 493 other stores across the country, asking customers for a $2 donation for a ball or puck. The percentage of donations to overall customers determined Labrador West as the winner with 53 per cent donations. The runner up earned 27 per cent.
Toews a hockey hero
Store owner and operator Chris Kondracki expects a couple thousand people to show up to the day’s events.
“The amount of calls we’re getting, not only from Lab City but from Churchill (Falls), Goose (Bay), Fermont – people really want to meet him.”
Kondracki isn’t surprised. He’s heard the stories from previous store winners, when thousands thronged to see the hockey hero.
“He’s a mega star, up there with Sidney Crosby. I know a few people who have met him and they say he’s a really nice person, and obviously a great hockey player. We sell his jerseys and sticks and everything here like crazy.”
Arriving at 10 a.m., Toews will start with a VIP for his three biggest fans. Children under 13 years old can write a letter and submit it to the store before 9 p.m., July 24, on what makes them the biggest Toews fan, and Canadian Tire staff will choose the Top 3. The winners must be present at the store for the drawing at 10 a.m. July 26.
“They’ll get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hang out with him, get their picture taken with him, autographs, all that sort of stuff,” Kondracki said.
Big crowd expected
While the three lucky fans are picking their jaws off the floor, Toews will sign autographs for an hour-and-a-half for 150 wristband holders, which can be won by filling out a ballot at the store and having their name drawn July 26.
The expected volume of the crowd and time constraints means not everyone will get to meet Toews.
“I hope a lot get to. To say everyone will, no, it’s just one day and if a couple thousand people showed up that’s not realistic,” Kondracki said.
But that doesn’t mean they won’t get to see him. Toews will be leaving the Labrador Mall at 2 p.m. on a big-rig float courtesy of O’Connell’s and parade towards the Labrador City Arena.
“We’re encouraging everyone to get to the arena; we’ll have signed jerseys, sticks, and pictures thrown into the crowd. So there will be a lot of opportunity for interaction with him.”
Toews will then pick up his stick with 100 young hockey players who had their names drawn after filling out a ballot at the arena. The winners must also be present for the drawing at the store July 26.
“And you don’t have to be a hockey player. You can just be into soccer or baseball or no sports at all. If you just think it would be cool to get out to play with him, go to the arena and fill out a ballot with your name and phone number.”
Kondracki said his store has been buzzing since it was announced the store had won the visit.
“I am so excited about it. And I know the community is too; every day I get people asking, ‘What’s going on? Where do I have to be? Where do I sign the ballot?’”
Once customers got wind of the potential visit, Kondracki said the donations kicked into overdrive.
“In the second week we were in second place. After that and everyone knew what was on the line with Jonathan coming here, the support was overwhelming. Some days we were having 90 per cent support.”
Kondracki said if there’s one thing he has learned in his time in Labrador West, it’s not to be surprised by the generous spirit.
“We absolutely kicked butt. We had good momentum from the start. It was a great job by my staff, especially the cashiers for sticking by their commitment of asking every customer, and then the overwhelming support from the customers to say yes.”