Young hockey players had their last hurrah before the hockey season ended last weekend at the Ponoka Culture and Recreation Complex.
Called the Tournament of Champions, the event was held in three municipalities including Ponoka Friday, March 27 to 29. Co-founder Tom McKinlay started the event 19 years ago as an opportunity to give young hockey teams a chance to enjoy the sport one last time.
Ponoka, Innisfail and Lacombe played hosts for the tournament, which brought novice and atom teams together. McKinlay said they started the Tournament of Champions to give novice teams an opportunity of their own. While older teams finished their provincials and regular league games, there was nothing available for the younger players.
Demand for atom teams developed over the years. “We’ve had people that have been with the tournament for five years.”
“That’s how dedicated people are,” added McKinlay.
He says they usually fill up by December and this year teams from Saskatchewan and Yellowknife, NWT came to join in on the action. In Ponoka there were 32 teams that competed. McKinlay says Ponoka is centrally located and the hotels and services are available for participants. He also feels the Ponoka arena is ideal because of the availability of two rinks.
When McKinlay started, they had a goal of 64 teams competing in total. Demand grew so fast that they at one time they had more than 200 teams competing. While interest is strong, McKinlay said he is comfortable with 96 to 128 teams in the tournament.
Why does he do it? “You can come watch these kids give everything they’ve got,” he explains.
McKinlay loves the game of hockey; he coaches a bantam team in Lacombe and he said he looked forward to seeing his grandson play in the tournament this year. For him, and the organizers, it’s all about the love of hockey.