Minor hockey elite on display at St. Albert hockey tournament
The John Reid Memorial tournament features North America's best bantam hockey teams
If there's one thing a hockey player loves, it's hitting the road with their team and playing in a tournament.
Sixteen bantam hockey teams from across Canada and western United States are calling St. Albert home this weekend while they play in the John Reid Memorial hockey tournament.
Games started on Thursday between the teams and will continue to Sunday. Teams from as far east as Toronto and as far south as Arizona are playing in the tournament.
John Evans is a 14-year-old right winger for the Delta Wild in British Columbia. It's his first time playing at the John Reid tournament, and to say he and his teammates are excited would be an understatement.
He still remembers when his coaches told the players their trip was a go.
"It's been really exciting," said Evans. "Our team found out on the bus heading to school and we were all just super excited to get there to play hockey, the game we love."
To qualify for one of Canada's top hockey tournaments, a bantam AAA team has to be in the top of its division back home.
Many of the players at this tournament have grown up facing each other in other tournaments across Western Canada since they were eight and nine years old.
"We know other players from the other teams from just playing with them in the past and just to see them again it's just fun," added Evans.
'Every game is going to be a battle'
While the tournament is a lot of fun for the kids, the pressure to perform is certainly expected. Teams of scouts from the junior hockey leagues fill the stands to find the next player to draft onto their respective teams.
The players are fully aware of the eyeballs in the stands and around the glass watching their every move, but it's up to the coaches to make sure the players are focused.
"Every game is going to be a battle, and every game is going to be a compete game that you have to be prepared for," said Shane Kuss, a coach for the Delta Wild.
"We try to steer away from putting more pressure on them. They know who's here, they know who's watching so we try to focus more on our team and the game and play their way."
Doing well in this tournament can certainly pave the way for a future in the game. More than 120 alumni who have played in the John Reid Memorial tournament have gone onto careers in the NHL.
Players like Jordan Eberle, Jarome Iginla, Jonathan Toews and more recently St. Albert's own Colton Parayko and Matthew Benning have laced them up for this tournament.
Like in years past, this year a few players stick out right away because of the names on the back of their jerseys. Christian Coffey is a forward with the Toronto Marlboros and is also the son of Oilers great Paul Coffey.
On the Phoenix Junior Coyotes, Josh Doan is playing in his first tournament. His dad Shane is the captain of the Arizona Coyotes.
"It's kind of neat, a couple of years ago we had Joe Sakic and Adam Foote with their kids from Colorado," said Cam Wietzel, who is one of the organizers of the tournament. "It's an added bit of excitement around the rink when you get those guys coming in.
"There's some pressure on the kids with dads who play or did play in the NHL, but they seem to handle it. I know Paul Coffey's son, it was his first trip to Edmonton so I think he got a glimpse of how big a deal his dad was in Edmonton."
'Marked on our calendar'
The John Reid Memorial tournament is a busy weekend for those who work for teams in the Western Hockey League.
Edmonton Oil Kings General Manager Randy Hansch and a team of about seven scouts will be sitting in the stands taking in all the games.
They will be watching for players they've already been following before the tournament and possibly new players who take their game to the next level at the tournament.
"From day one, we always have it marked on our calendar and it's a tournament we always look forward to," said Hansch.
"At this point, you're following certain teams [and] certain players but it's like anything, when you're out watching there's always guys who pop out of nowhere."
The John Reid Memorial tournament runs through the weekend. The final is set for 2 p.m. Sunday at Servus Credit Union Place.