Bantam hockey provincials coming to Invermere

It’s the first provincial tournament in Invermere since the midget girls provincials was held here in 2011

For a certain group of puck-pursuing 13 and 14 year-olds in B.C., Invermere will be the centre of the hockey universe later this month.

Invermere will be hosting five of the top teams from B.C.’s nine hockey regions in the tier four bantam provincials tournament being held at the Eddie Mountain Memorial Arena from March 15th through 19th.

“It should be a really competitive tournament; it will be really good hockey, and it will be fun for the boys,” said Windermere Valley Minor Hockey Association president Chris Prosser. The local bantam Rockies rep team is representing the entire East Kootenays.

It’s the first provincial tournament in Invermere since the midget girls provincials was held here in 2011. The last bantam boys provincial tournament was held here in 1997.

“This is a good opportunity for the boys to play in front of their hometown crowd,” said Mr. Prosser. “I think they’ll be pretty competitive; we’ve got players from Golden and Cranbrook on our team. They’ve really come together; in the last three months, they’ve lost a total of only five or six games.”

“They’re really playing good hockey right now, and we’ve got two weeks until it starts,” he added.

The tiers are determined by the size of a hockey association, rather than the skill of the players; tier four teams tend to have less than 80 kids in their peewee, bantam and midget age groups. The host team  is automatically included in the provinicial tournament.

This year, the Windermere Valley bantam team was able to get five players from Golden, which didn’t have enough players to form a team this year, and a goalie from Cranbrook, after the local goaltender was injured in a dirt biking accident.

Bantam, peewee and midget hockey championship are regularly held in geographically far-flung locations across B.C., said Mr. Prosser. According to a BC Hockey economic impact analysis, a four-day provincial hockey tournament can be expected to generate $1.5 to $2 million for a city or town. The teams in the tournament will play one game a day over four days, leaving plenty of time for tourism and recreation.

Kelowna and Kamloops are expected to be among the strongest teams at the tournament. Things will also get physical, as bantam is now the first level of hockey at which body-checking is allowed.

One of the team’s top offensive threats is 14-year-old Jake Gudjonson from Golden, who has several multi-goal games this year. The team, coached by Edgewater Elementary principal Darryl Turner with assistance from Kevin Nelson and Tim Fedow, boasts a wide range of skill and depth.

“Darryl brings a wealth of hockey experience and real good respect from all the boys on the team,” said Mr. Prosser.

The tournament is expected to generate some profit for the Windermere Valley Minor Hockey Association’s provincials fund, which will be used to help ease the costs for local teams attending other provincial tournaments.

“A typical week is $2,500 per family when you go away for four or five days, so it can add up pretty quickly,” he said. “It typically takes around $20,000 to run this tournament; so far we’ve raised just over $10,000, and we’ve still got more coming in — with all our hoodie sales and raffle sales, we should be close.”

With the majority of the games taking place at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights, the hockey association is hoping to see as many people in the stands as possible.