Rick Levesque and his son, Kaleb Levesque, of St. Thomas, check out some vintage hockey gear inside a 53-foot trailer of memorabilia that was on display when the NHL Centennial Fan Arena was at the Tillsonburg Community Centre on Saturday. Celebrating 100 years of the National Hockey League and its top 100 players, the display is travelling across the country in 2017. JOHN TAPLEY/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

TILLSONBURG – “I can’t believe everything here is free, it’s awesome,” said Cory Walzak of St. Thomas about the NHL Centennial Fan Arena that was set up at the Tillsonburg Community Centre Thursday through Saturday.

The NHL Centennial Fan Arena is a travelling exhibition to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the NHL and recognize the league’s top 100 players. It made its first appearance Jan. 1 during Toronto’s outdoor game, with plans to visit every NHL city during 2017.

Tillsonburg is the only non-NHL community to host and was selected by the league due to Tillsonburg local and NHL senior executive vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell living in the region and asking NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to let Tillsonburg showcase to help minor hockey families experience the event, Tillsonburg’s Kinsmen Club wrote in a release.

Besides a 53-foot trailer full of NHL memorabilia and video displays, the Stanley Cup was on site Thursday and Friday, and Walzak said seeing the cup was the highlight of the event for him.

“It’s a good opportunity for the kids to see (the NHL) past and present and there’s a lot of interactive stuff for them to do,” said Rick Levesque of St. Thomas who was at the event with his sons, Kaleb and Kolton, on Saturday.

Rick Levesque said he was disappointed they missed out on seeing the Stanley Cup.

“I thought it was supposed to be here today, too,” he said.

Even so, he said they enjoyed having their photo taken with a mock up of a Toronto Maple Leafs dressing room bench.

“It’s pretty cool, pretty neat to see,” said Harold Hewitt of Tillsonburg who was taking in the fan arena on Saturday with his wife, Sharon.

While they also missed out on seeing the Stanley Cup, Harold Hewitt said he had already been in the presence of the historic trophy when NHL player Rob Blake had it on display in Simcoe after winning the cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001.

Lorenzo Bortolltto and Tammy Andrews and their children Alex Andrews, Ethan Andrews and Calliope Bortolltto of London were getting the Centennial experience inside the 1,000 square-foot trailer on Saturday.

Lorenzo Bortolltto said the display captured all aspects of the league’s history well.

“The evolution of the equipment is quite remarkable,” he said.

While the family claimed the Chicago Blackhawks as their team, they admitted to being “closet Toronto fans.”

Ethan Andrews said he was looking forward to trying out the virtual reality ice resurfacer, which provided an opportunity to see what it is like to drive one of the machines.

“It seems fun,” said Andrews.

Alex Serra, 16, of Calgary, was also among those who tried out the virtual ice resurfacer.

“It was cool,” he said about the experience.

Visiting a friend in Ingersoll, Serra ended up at the fan arena by chance.

“It’s pretty crazy that a small town like this has all this stuff,” he said.

Mark Dickson and his daughter, Josie, 2, of Tillsonburg, were among the crowd that passed through the fan arena on Saturday after finishing up a soccer game.

“We thought we’d come over and check things out,” said Mark Dickson, who had been at the event previously to see the Stanley Cup. “It was great.”

He said the fact that Tillsonburg scored such a high profile attraction was “quite amazing.”

“We’re pretty lucky to be so fortunate to get such a big event to our town.”

– With files from Greg Colgan/Sentinel-Review

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