They may not be the top prospects in the North yet but novice players got the same star-treatment for their tournament at the Don Stewart Recreation Centre last weekend.
“It was really wonderful this year,” said organizer Michelle Staszuk of the opening ceremony where teams skated out onto the ice with their banners to pump up the crowd. “We’ve got a really positive response from the visiting teams too and it’s really great. The parents here have pulled together for all the kids.”
There were 10 teams participating at this year’s tournament with eight coming from out of town. Teams from Northern Alberta, Yellowknife and Fort Smith joined in the festivities along with two local teams for a total of 135 registered players. With only two away-tournaments scheduled this year, Staszuk said the players make the most of their opportunity to host. They are always warmly welcomed whenever the team travels to other communities and Staszuk said players wanted to return the favour.
“We have a really big group at this age this year,” said Staszuk, complimenting coach Mark Harris for both his instruction and management capabilities. “They’re all really excited about the tournament … They really look forward to playing against the other teams and they get to meet so many people.”
Jack Pettipas, player for Hay River Blue, said his favourite part of tournaments is scoring goals while teammate Kale Beck said he most liked deking and passing.
But the players came close to missing out on the weekend’s events. With a municipal workers’ strike looming, the employees were only prevented from beginning their strike Friday as a result of misfiled paperwork.
“I had heard it maybe wasn’t going to happen,” said Pettipas, referring to the tournament. “But I’m really happy it’s happening.”
While the highlight of most tournaments is the final game, the organizers of this one have drawn that attention to Friday night for the second year in a row.
“I like the opening ceremony because you get to skate through the banner and show off your team,” said Beck.
Staszuk said the addition allows players to meet each other on different terms than they usually encounter and help build years-long friendships.
“As long as they’re playing hockey in the North, they’ll be seeing each other,” she said. “Not everyone can score 10 goals but they can all be recognized for their hard work.”