For some it will have been eight months of sweat and pain.
For others, blood and perhaps a bit of controversy. But when the top six Midget hockey teams in Canada assemble in Red Deer on April 23 only one thing is going to matter to any of them: winning.
Moral victories be damned, after slugging it out with their respective provincial counterparts for the better part of a calendar year, you can bet each and every one at this years TELUS Cup participants will have their eyes on gold.
And what does that mean for Alberta in general and the host city of Red Deer specifically?
“The TELUS Cup stands on its own in terms of on-ice product,” said Ryan Robins, event manager for Hockey Canada. “You’re going to see some of the top-ranked prospects in the country with a great potential for professional careers down the road.”
Almost more important than their talent, which is a given for any team still skating while flowers bloom outside, is the determination and energy of these 15, 16 and 17-year-old players.
After falling hard out of the gates at last year’s TELUS Cup in Charlottetown, PEI, the Calgary Buffaloes bounced back from an 0-2 start to earn a spot in the gold medal game.
After a triple overtime thriller, the Prince Albert Mintos ultimately skated away with the country’s top Midget hockey prize, but for many of the Buffs players now plying their trade with top junior teams across western Canada, the tournament provided a great lesson in what high-level hockey is all about.
“Obviously its the highest level of Midget hockey across Canada, so every team is good, guys are usually bigger and everyone is faster, but when it gets down to that few teams, its all about who wants it most and who is willing to work hardest for it,” said Mike Connolly, the captain of last year’s Buffaloes team and a first-team all-star for the Camrose Kodiaks in the Alberta Junior Hockey League this season.
“After our second loss last year we got an email from (Ottawa Senators sniper) Dany Heatley, because he grew up playing in the Buffs system, and that really settled us down. Basically what we realized is that its a long tournament for a reason, so you can never give up, but most importantly you just have to enjoy it.”
No doubt that will be easier for the fans than the players, especially given the possibility of seeing another budding superstar along the lines of Heatley, who helped the Buffs to a bronze medal at the 1998 tournament, or Sidney Crosby, who suited up with the Dartmouth Subways when they took silver in 2002.
“The excitement has been with the organizing committee since we learned our bid was successful, but I think the whole community is starting to realize that this is coming now and once the league playoffs end for the rest of our teams I think everyone will be excited about this,” said Marv Seibel, chair of Red Deer’s organizing committee. “The sponsors have been just exceptional and because of them and the hard work of everyone involved with minor hockey here, I think its going to be a fantastic event.
“This is such a prestigious event and with the caliber of hockey that is going to be played here, I think there is going to be a lot of excitement throughout the community.”
Adding to the excitement for this year’s tournament is the fact that it is back in Alberta for the first time since 1991, when the host Calgary North Stars took gold, and 2007 marks Hockey Alberta’s centennial anniversary.
A number of extra events, such as parent appreciation night, a silent auction and several intermission promotions will accentuate the province’s 100th year of hockey, but there is no question it will be the games themselves that highlight this event.
The top five teams from each region of the country, plus the host Red Deer Optimist Rebels, gain entry into the round-robin style tournament.
The four teams with the best record after the round robin move on to the semifinals to battle for a spot in the gold medal game.
All of this year’s round robin games will take place at the Red Deer Arena, where the host Rebels are undefeated so far this season, with the bronze and gold medal games set to go at the Red Deer Centrium on April 29.
Passes for the tournament are $69 and include entry to all 13 round-robin games and the two medal games and are nearly sold out.
Call Ticketmaster at 403-340-4455 or the Red Deer Minor Hockey Association at 403-347-9960. A small number of single-game tickets may be released prior to individual contests, but Seibel said given the demand for the full tournament packages, there is no guarantee of that at this point.