It’s hard to talk about hockey in Sarnia without talking about Silver Stick.
The renowned minor hockey tournament will take over the city once again in January, with the boy’s Atom (ages 10 and under) and Midget (ages 17 and under) finals on Jan. 13 to15, and the ladies Peewee (ages 14 and under) and Midget finals the following weekend on Jan. 20 to 22.
Now in its 49th year in Sarnia, the competition will be stiff. The boy’s Silver Stick tournament finals have 74 teams attending from Ontario, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Florida.
Games will be held at Clearwater Arena, Point Edward Arena, Sarnia Arena, Progressive Auto Sales Arena, and the Petrolia Rec. Centre.
“I liken the Silver Stick to the Stanley cup of minor hockey. It’s one of the toughest tournaments to win,” said boys tournament director Mark Colbran. Unlike other tournaments, which are usually just one weekend at a time, most Silver Stick divisions rely on a series of regional tournaments to create a finals packed with some of the best minor hockey teams in Canada and the U.S.
“This tournament is special in the fact that you have to win something to get to the final.”
Opening ceremonies will coincide with the Sarnia Sting home game on Friday, Jan 13. The schedules haven’t been finalized, but Colbran said games will start on Jan. 13 and will carry into the weekend, with the championship games at Clearwater Arena on Jan 15.
Sarnia will host the Silver Stick ladies Peewee and Midget finals the following weekend, which has attracted 50 teams from Ontario, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois.
Similar to the boy’s Midget and Atom AAA, the process for selecting teams is by invite only. Tournament director Bryan Chappell said it will show the “best girl’s teams around.”
Like the boy’s side, the ladies play in all of the same venues across the city, with games starting on Friday morning, Jan 20.
The original Silver Stick tournament was created by Canadian athlete Jack Kinsella. His intention was to create an international tournament that celebrated “citizenship and international goodwill.”
Since it’s inception, it has always been a tournament that unites players from Canada and the U.S.
Not surprisingly, border cities were lobbied in the early days of Silver Stick to host tournaments, and in 1961, the Bantam and Peewee finals appeared in Port Huron, Michigan, with support from Sarnia. Not long after, Sarnia earned it’s own divisions, becoming home to the Atom and Midget finals in 1969.
With the draw this tournament has been for teams and their families over the past half-century, the economic impact can’t be understated.
Vicky Praill, the special event co-ordinator at Tourism Sarnia-Lambton, said the tournament brings families that pack hotels all the way to London and Wallaceburg.
Praill said the finals and regional tournaments inject about $4 million into the local economy.
“Pretty much the month of January is silver stick month for Lambton County.”
Game schedules will be available online at silverstick.org. All games are free to attend.
A brief history of International Silver Stick hockey
In 1956, Canadian Athlete Jack Kinsella developed the idea for an international hockey tournament after he watched his son play for the Woodroffe Cardinals (Ottawa) and the Postdam Golden Knights (New York), in New York State. Kinsella thought a follow-up match should be organized to promote the sport, and encourage international “goodwill” between Canada and the U.S.
The Tournament was named after the Ottawa Silver Seven hockey team that won the Stanley Cup from 1903-1905. In those days, teams were made up of seven players: one goaltender, two defensemen, three forwards and one rover. There were no substitutions allowed.
The first Silver Stick Tournament was held in Richmond, Ont. in February of 1958, as it was home to one of the only indoor rinks in the area. It included Peewee (ages 12 and under) and Bantam (ages 14 and under) teams from Potsdam, New York and South Carleton, Ontario. The teams from Potsdam won.
The original Silver Stick trophy was a regulation-sized, kiln-dried hockey stick wrapped in copper steel tape and dipped in sterling silver. The Ottawa Citizen Publishing Company commissioned it for the tournament at a cost of $500, (equivalent to around $4,000 today).
The original Silver Stick resides in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. The International Silver Stick Hockey Association is the only minor hockey association to have a display in the Hall of Fame.
In 1961, Port Huron Michigan, with support from Sarnia, became the host city of the Silver Stick tournament. Port Huron still hosts the Peewee and Bantam finals.
In 1969, Sarnia became home to the finals for the boy’s Atom (ages 10 and under) and Midget (ages 17 and under) divisions.
In 1997, ladies hockey was integrated into the tournament. To this day, ladies teams are brought in by invitation only.
Silver Stick regional tournaments and finals host over 65,000 players and coaches every year, with teams from California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, New York and Ontario.
Currently there are 47 Silver Stick regional tournaments throughout North America, with local Ontario tournaments in Alvinston, Chatham, Watford and Petrolia.