Hockey Brandon is promising a bigger and better Tournament of Champions in its second year after retaking control of its flagship event.
The 45th edition of the tournament begins today with a single game as the Brandon 12A Wheat Kings take on Shoal Lake/Rossburn (Sportsplex, 7 p.m.) in the Peewee A division, followed by a full day of action tomorrow. The boys’ Peewee AA, Atom A and Atom AA divisions also hit the ice this weekend, with 36 teams taking part. The older boys play in the second week, from Feb. 13-16, with the Bantam A, AA and AAA divisions to be joined by the girls’ Peewee AA category.
Hockey Brandon brought the tournament entirely under its own umbrella last season after contracting out its operation for 10 years before that, and tournament chair Bryan Tannahill said the organizing committee learned a great deal.
"I think we’re probably more excited this year with having more teams than we did last year," Tannahill said. "We’ve made a lot of improvements from even last year, just with some of the tournament structure and some of the off-ice stuff."
The biggest changes will come in the 29-team second weekend with the addition of the girls’ Peewee AA and boys’ Bantam A categories. The Bantam AAA division is also technically new this year, although at last year’s event it was held at the same time as the Tournament of Champions but was run by Hockey Manitoba.
Another notable difference this year is that the bulk of the games will be played between Friday and Sunday each week, with only a single Thursday game in each half of the tournament. Tannahill said that was based on feedback received last year from teams who wanted the event shortened.
"So we’ve condensed it, but in doing that we’ve been forced to add another rink, so we’ve added Rivers’ arena now," said Tannahill, who added that most of last year’s responses were positive. "There will be some flack or feedback from that, saying it’s a Brandon tournament and we’re making people drive 25 minutes. But I think when people see that facility out there, and for a lot of teams travelling here, especially if they’re coming from a bigger city, a 25-minute drive is really nothing for them, I think they’ll enjoy that experience."
Using nearby rural arenas is actually nothing new for the tournament, which did so in its heyday, and it’s something Tannahill said could become commonplace as organizers try to attract teams from further afield to regain the event’s former status.
"It’s something that if we’re going to continue to grow this tournament into a bigger tournament, which we’re looking for next year with making a big push to get some of the U.S. teams back and make it more of an international tournament and maybe take it up to over 80 teams, then we’re going to have to rely certainly on other rural rinks, like possibly Souris and Shilo also," Tannahill said.
This weekend’s field will include six Brandon teams — two each in the Atom A and Peewee A categories, with one apiece in the Atom AA and Peewee AA divisions. Entries from Souris and Rivers will take part in the Atom A group, joining the Brandon squads and the Shoal Lake/Rossburn Peewee A team as Westman participants in the first week.
The A-side finals will take place on Sunday at Westman Place, starting with the Atom A game at 9 a.m.