534 teams compete in Edmonton minor hockey tournament

The 46th annual Edmonton Minor Hockey Week Tournament, taking place this week, has attracted 534 teams — making it one of the biggest hockey tournaments in the world.

Most minor hockey tournaments last a weekend — Edmonton needs more than a week.

The 46th annual Edmonton Minor Hockey Week tournament is underway in the city. With 534 teams participating this year, it's one of the biggest hockey tournaments in the world.

"The goal is to have every team competing in the Edmonton Minor Hockey Association (EMHA) playing this tournament," said Rod McMahon, the tournament chair.

The teams come from Edmonton and surrounding area, and range from novice to midget age levels. There will be 761 games played during the nine-day event, which runs Jan. 9-18. 

McMahon says that, for a lot of Edmonton kids, this tournament is their version of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"Minor Hockey week is a big thing," he said. "For some kids, winning the tournament means a lot more to them than even winning [first place] at the end of the year in the league they participate in."

Hockey enrolment rising

And it's getting bigger. There are 34 more teams competing this year than last, thanks to rising hockey enrolment in the city.  It's even luring teams that don't belong to the EMHA.

"There's more kids playing hockey in the city," McMahon said. "I think it's always good to see enrolment up in hockey."

But it also makes finding enough ice time that much harder in a city that's already experiencing an ice crunch.

"Each year it gets a little more difficult, [but] we're able to scratch our way through," McMahon said.

Around 3,000 volunteers are helping out during the event, including some who have been there for all 46 years of the tourney. But to McMahon, there's no question as to who helps out the most.

"Our Number 1 volunteers are our referees," he said.

It's a tradition that stretches back since the tournament's inception. The 500 refs officiate the games for free, saving the tournament an estimated $40,000 in operating costs.

"I don't even think we can say how much it means to us," McMahon said. "We're just indebted to them to no end. They're our lifeline for this tournament.

"Without the referees, we just couldn't do this. They're the key to this tournament and making it possible," he said.

In addition to the various trophies that will be handed out at tournament's end, three kids playing in Minor Hockey Week will score $750 scholarships toward post-secondary education.