For 22 years, huge numbers of seven-to 10-year-old hockey players have descended on arenas around central Alberta for one of the biggest tournaments in the province.
The 2018 Tournament of Champions, held this year over the Easter long weekend (March 30 to April 1), featured a total of 128 teams over nine atom and seven novice divisions and played out of five different communities — Ponoka, Lacombe, Bentley, Innisfail and Sylvan Lake.
“The tournament has averaged about 128 teams participating, but at its biggest, there were 164 teams,” noted tournament organizer Bobby McKinlay.
“My parents operated the tournament for 20 years and then my wife (Brittany) and I took over. It’s been a part of my life since I was 14 and next year we are hoping to make it bigger.”
McKinlay added the toughest thing in organizing such a large event isn’t so much the logistics of volunteers and ice times.
“The hardest thing to get right is the tiering of the teams into divisions so that teams are as closely matched as can be,” he said.
“This year’s tournament was amazing and I’ve seen way more close games than ever before. That’s the point of this tournament, to give teams a chance to play at their own level and have a lot of fun.”
The format of having just one game each day also helps focus on the fun aspect, with McKinlay noting it allows — especially for the out of town teams — to enjoy spending one last weekend with their hockey pals at the rink and taking in activities available in the area.
And with a tournament having run for over two decades, McKinlay believes there might be players participating now that will reach the pro ranks, just like a pair who played about 15 years ago.
“With having been around so long, it’s kind of neat to see where some players end up in the future,” he said, adding that Matt Dumba — currently with the Minnesota Wild — and Tampa Bay Lightning’s Brayden Point are tournament alumni.
The list of the 16 division winners are: Atom — Div. 1 Fort McMurray Jr Oil Barons, Div. 2 Hanna Colts, Div. 3 Red Deer Traxx Bus Lines, Div. 4 Bonnyville Pontiacs, Div 5. Stony Plain Predators, Div. 6 Lethbridge Ghostriders, Div. 7 Lethbridge Sharks, Div. 8 Grande Prairie McDonalds, Div. 9 Blackfoot Chiefs Gold;
Novice — Div. 1 Edmonton Knight of Columbus Warriors, Div. 2 Camrose Vikings, Div. 3 Cochrane Rockies, Div. 4 Chestermere Lakers (Forrest), Div. 5 Bentley Canucks, Div. 6 Strathmore Storm, Div. 7 Chestermere Lakers (Marcotte).