For a few days most winter weekends, arenas in Harriston, Palmerston and Clifford, like rinks across the country, are packed with young hockey players and their parents, enjoying that most Canadian of winter traditions – a minor hockey tournament. Often rising before dawn for a dark drive to a far-away rink, players enjoy the opportunity to spend time with team mates while immersed in a hockey-first environment
Tournaments are important to any minor hockey association, providing both an opportunity for players to compete for brief periods in a playoff-like atmosphere, and a valuable revenue stream for the organization.
In the Town of Minto, most tournaments are one-day affairs, involving eight teams and one arena. However, the Minto Minor Hockey Association’s Midget LL event has grown steadily over the past several years, blooming this year into a 20-team affair that keeps two rinks busy over a three-day period in late January.
With more than 40 games between opening face-off and finals, the Minto tourney has become a significant event on the local hockey calendar. While still a long way from the scale of the massive Harriston Bantam Tournament, which ran for the entire March Break for 20 years from late ‘60s to early ‘80s, the event has continued to grow each year. The Bantam Tournament in its hey day hosted teams from Toronto, Windsor and, on one memorable occasion, Boston, and featured as many as 70 games at its height. While teams don’t come from as far afield for the Midget event, some travel several hours to compete in one of the top area events for this level of hockey.
Minto Minor Hockey Association president Wayne Ditner, who has acts as convenor for the tournament, says the event began to grow because fewer centres were hosting tourneys at the Midget LL level, which includes players from 15-17.
“There weren’t that many tournaments around,” notes Ditner, who says the tournament, then convened by Iris Reynolds of Harriston, first expanded to a 16-team event three years ago.
In addition to the game action, the event also features a skills competition, which has become an extremely popular feature. Held during a break as organizers calculate positioning for the semi-final games, shooters and goalies face off penalty shot style before packed rinks in both towns. In the Palmerston shootout, Anthony McKinnon of the Minto Mad Dogs won the shooters title, with goals that included a high-light reel, Crosby-style tally that saw him scoop the puck up on the blade of his stick, spin around and toss it by a startled netminder. Minto’s Curtis Ferguson placed first in the goaltending category.
Extras like the shootout event, simply add to the fun for the players and their parents, notes Ditner.
Parents and coaches on all Minto Minor Hockey teams work together to stage a tournament at all levels, says Lori Ditner, who works alongside her husband to convene the Midget LL event. A typical one-day tourney raises about $2,000 for MMHA, while the Midget LL tournament sometimes generates more than twice that amount. The funds help to keep registration fees down, while enhancing the hockey programs the association offers. The three-day nature of the Midget LL tourney magnifies the positive economic impact all tournaments have on a community, as families visit for several days, requiring accommodation, meals and other services.
The success of the tournament is due to many factors, the Ditners note, including a lot of hard work from the parents of local Midget LL players, referees, arena staff, community volunteers and the contribution of local businesses, which sponsor the event.
Wayne notes that plans are already been made for next year’s tournament, which he intends to remain involved in.
“I don’t want to see the tournament start to fall off,” he says, adding, “too many people seem to really enjoy it.”