Organizers are preparing for the annual extravaganza known as Silver Stick, although one elite Sarnia team won’t be taking the ice.
The minor hockey tournament returns in January with the girls’ finals in Atom (10 and under), Peewee (14 and under) Bantam (15 and under) and Midget (18 and under) held Jan 10-12.
The boy’s Atom and Midget (18 and under) finals are Jan. 17- 19.
Local Silver Stick, which has hosted the likes of NHLers Steve Stamkos and Joe Thornton, must now compete against other U18 regional tournaments for teams, said tournament director Mark Colbran.
The boys Atom division is still strong in Sarnia. But AAA Midget tournaments in Peterborough, Detroit and Chicago have drawn off so many teams organizers scrapped the category last year, said Colbran.
Organizers have not yet confirmed a tournament roster for AAA Midget, the top level of minor hockey in Ontario.
The Midget Lambton Jr. Sting AAA team, for one, has said it won’t attend for a second straight year.
“It looks really bad when even your local association isn’t in your tournament,” he said. “(It's) because I’m not getting the American teams, which is what the Canadian teams want to play against.
“The reason they came to Silver Stick was to play against these teams they never see.”
But a new category could fill the void, Colbran added. In recent years, Canadian and U.S. prep high schools have sent teams to compete at Silver Stick. Colbran is drafting a plan to welcome them permanently.
Over the two weekends, girls and boys teams will play nearly 300 games will be played at Clearwater Arena, Point Edward Arena, Sarnia Arena, Progressive Auto Sales Arena, and the Petrolia Recreation Centre.
Teams come from Ontario and Alberta, as well as Nevada, California and Massachusetts. Each year, they bring thousands of hockey family members to the area.
“This is Sarnia Hockey’s biggest fundraiser. We use all of the proceeds from this tournament to go right back to the Sarnia Hockey Association, and it helps to keep the cost of playing hockey down,” Colbran said.
“We consider this the Stanley Cup of minor hockey.”
A first this year, Silver Stick girls will host four age groups comprising 57 teams, said organizer Bryan Chappell.
“We are packed full. On Friday I don’t have any hours of ice free,” he said.
Silver Stick was created by Canadian athlete Jack Kinsella who wanted an international tournament celebrating “citizenship and international goodwill.”
It has always been a tournament that unites players from Canada and the U.S.
Border cities were lobbied in the early days to host Silver Stick tournaments, and in 1961 the Bantam and Peewee finals were played in Port Huron, Michigan, with support from Sarnia.
Not long after, Sarnia earned its own divisions, becoming home to the Atom and Midget finals in 1969.