It’s a funny thing, being neighbours. As Canadians, we’re one big happy family until someone mentions Toronto and our local or provincial instincts kick in. A similar spirit of kinship and cooperation exists on Vancouver Island, at least before the puck drops.
In the six Island communities hosting this year’s World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, tournament organizers have joined together in a ground-up, grassroots effort. Embracing that principle has demanded a willingness to put aside longstanding on-ice rivalries to plan and execute one of the world’s largest and most prestigious junior hockey events.
If it sounds like a simple process, check out a Cowichan Valley Capitals/Nanaimo Clippers game and get back to us. Whether it’s at the minor, junior or senior level, Vancouver Island boasts some of the most intense and fun rivalries in hockey. So how do you work with the same folks on Wednesday that you can’t wait to beat on Saturday?
“There really has been an unparalleled spirit of cooperation between the six communities that have been working together on this event,” tournament chairman Ron Paulsen says. “We’ve all been working towards the same goal – to make this a tournament that reflects well on the whole Central Island.”
But Paulsen, who is based in Alberni Valley, knows firsthand the intense competition that exists between his town’s teams and its neighbours. An Edmonton native, he moved to the Island to play senior hockey with the Port Alberni Islander Blues in 1974. He may be working with folks in Nanaimo and Campbell River now, but he still carries vivid memories of the days when relations weren’t as cordial.
“There have always been rivalries between these communities,” he says. “My own experience with it goes back over 30 years, and it’s always been very spirited with some real battles. It’s always fun and it goes right from kids to adults.”
But as much as Paulsen and his counterparts in places like Oceanside, Comox and Cowichan Valley feel a connection with the game close to home, it’s been easy to unite their efforts towards a higher calling. He says that the event’s 500-plus organizers and volunteers all feel a sense of pride in doing their part to further Canadian hockey.
A year ago, Paulsen travelled to London, ON for the 2008 edition of the tournament. It was supposed to be a business trip, he says, and a chance to see the scope of the event and how things were being done. It was about an hour before Team Pacific played in nearby Stratford, when he walked into the dressing room and saw walls covered in red and white jerseys and Maple Leaf logos. And it hit him.
“It had a profound effect on me,” he says. “It was a feeling of awe and respect for my country. I think of how it made me feel and I can’t even imagine the effect it has on the players.”
Of all the reasons to host an event on the scale of the World Under-17 Challenge, to pour hundreds of hours of spare time and effort, and yes, even work with folks from Nanaimo, Paulsen saw the payoff in that moment. Now, he’s determined to experience that thrill again in his adopted hometown and others communities like it.
“We’ve all insisted from the start that this be a celebration of community and of hockey,” he says. “It’s our goal and responsibility to make this a great experience for the players, our visitors, and everybody who loves the sport.”