Hay River lost to a team from Yellowknife in overtime in the final of the Hay River Rusty Blades Tournament Feb. 2.
The Northbest Packers scored with 2:53 left in overtime, ending the game 4-3.
But despite the nail-biting ending to the tournament, its organizer said the whole weekend isn’t really about who wins or loses as much as it is about having a good time.
“It’s $700 to enter and the winner gets a banner and bragging rights,” said Jeff Boyce. “We don’t have prizes or anything like that. We’re here to have fun and play hockey.”
The tournament drew seven teams to town – two from Yellowknife, two from Fort Simpson, and one each from High Level, Fort Smith, and a combined team from Tulita and Lutsel K’e. When added to the five teams Hay River put on the ice, this was one of the most well-attended tournaments of the season so far.
“It’s pretty much the same teams every year,” said Boyce. “12 teams is almost too much for three days. We run all day and end at 11 at night.”
Unlike other hockey tournaments hosted at the hub, the Rusty Blades weekend-long event never fails to draw more than enough teams. It’s also more of a social occasion, according to Boyce. He said the Old Timers’ league that puts on the event makes sure to feed everyone a few times a day and throws dances after the games are done as well.
“It’s good for the town,” he said. “All the restaurants, hotels, and bars are full for the weekend.”
Boyce said there would have been more teams if all the ice roads had been open, but as it was, noted that many of the players bring their families with them, boosting the number of visitors.
“This is our home tournament and we’ve had it ever since I’ve been playing hockey,” said Jack Rowe, adding that the first one he remembers was sometime in the late 1980s. “We’re fortunate to have players come from around the North, and some of them are guys we’ve been playing with for 20 and 30 years.”
Rowe said a large part of the success of the tournament is the league’s strong presence in Hay River itself. Players aspire and look forward to playing Old Timers’ hockey he said, and the community really comes out to support the teams.
“The saving grace is that we have so many excellent volunteers,” he said, adding that not only are the current helpers out in full force, but there’s a succession plan as well. “There are some guys coming up through the ranks who are pitching in and looking to maybe be organizers in the future.”
Boyce agreed with Rowe that the participation of volunteers was vital. He said the weekend’s bartender Bobbi Hamilton had signed up for one shift – from 6:00 pm Friday to 6:00 pm Sunday.
“Lots of the guys are helping out too,” said Boyce. “It’s really their weekend and they’re the ones who make it happen.”