Late addition balloons bantams

Burnaby Bulldogs Mateo Toledo strips the puck from Alaska Aces defenseman Mason Blackshear in the first period of their game at the 50th Bantam AAA international hockey tournament at Burnaby Lake Arena. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
Burnaby Bulldogs Mateo Toledo strips the puck from Alaska Aces defenseman Mason Blackshear in the first period of their game at the 50th Bantam AAA international hockey tournament at Burnaby Lake Arena.

As chair of the Burnaby Minor Hockey Association’s major bantam Christmas tournament since the mid-1990s, Larry Hayes has organizing it down to a science. But the 2012 version required him to do some new math that involved squeezing 17 into 16.

When all the calculations had been done and spreadsheets finalized, there was still one tournament champion with the Okanagan Hockey Academy edging the Langley Eagles 4-3 in the New Year’s Eve final.

“It had its exciting moments,” said Hayes of the 50th version of the tourney. “Certainly the 17th team at the 11th hour created a few sleepless nights, but we were happy to let them in.”

For the most part, the BMHA Christmas tourney doesn’t need much tweaking from year to year with 16 teams in four divisions creating a nice scheduling symmetry. But that symmetry got knocked askew last month. Hayes said the confusion stemmed from the tentative approval for entry he had given the Arizona Bobcats in July, which he does for many teams in the summer.

“After that some follow through and some don’t follow through. They assumed they were registered but there was no follow up work done and no registration fee,” said Hayes.

When the schedule came out, the Bobcats weren’t on it and they frantically contacted Hayes saying they had already booked their flights and hotel rooms.

Hayes said he worked with the city to be able to adjust the schedule to allow for the Bobcats to be included as a fifth team in one division. Complicating matters was the addition of Simon Fraser University’s showcase tournament involving UBC, Arizona State University Sun Devils and the Oklahoma University Sooners taking up two nights at Copeland. The juggling act had Hayes’ head spinning.

“I needed a psychiatrist when it sunk in,” said Hayes. “Once I get the tournament program and schedule to bed I usually get a two or three day rest period before Christmas, but it didn’t happen this year. The city bent over backwards to make it happen.”

In the last two years, the tournament has lost some of its star power. The United States economy has taken its toll on traveling for many of its major bantam teams. Frequently the tournament had as many as six American teams and occasionally there would be one from Europe. The 2011 version, for the first time in as long as Hayes could remember, no U.S. team showed up. It was also the first time the Burnaby Winter Club, which had won in 2009 and 2010, didn’t participate electing to attend a tournament in California instead. This year both the Burnaby and North Shore Winter Clubs, who had won seven of 10 titles between 2001 and 2010 between them, decided to give their players a Christmas break, said Hayes.

“It would have been nice to have them here because they’re two good, strong teams,” said Hayes. “Both of them have been part of the tradition. Having them would have been great.”

Not having those teams, however, did not diminish the attention the tourney got from Western Hockey League scouts, said Hayes holding up a box full of job cards scouts left with the committee. “It’s just good to have them here.”

He said having the international flavour back with the Bobcats, Arizona Firebirds and Alaska Aces was welcomed by the local teams. It makes it just that more interesting and exciting to be able to play somebody different.”

Having the university teams playing and holding college hockey seminars was also a nice addition to the festivities, said Hayes. “That added some excitement and atmosphere to the tournament. It was a good start to a real good tradition.”

The Prince George Cougars took third place by edging the Coquitlam Chiefs 4-3.

The BMHA Bulldogs came in second in the Smith Division by beginning the round robin with a 4-2 win over the Alaska Aces and then downing the Nanaimo Clippers 5-2 on the tourney’s opening day, Dec. 27. The next day, however, they were defeated 8-3 by the Surrey Thunder.

The Bulldogs were eliminated in the first playoff round when the Cougars doubled them 6-3.



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