One of the early highlights of the Sarnia sports calendar for almost five decades now has been the North American Silver Stick Midget and Atom hockey Finals.
And 2016 is no exception.
Players from across the continent will converge here next weekend for three days of competition from Jan. 15-17.
“We think of this as the Stanley Cup of minor hockey,” said Tournament Director Mark Colbran.
“We’ll have between 68 and 70 teams this year.”
The number of midget teams competing is down, due in part to the distance regional winners have to travel to compete here. For example, regional winners from tournaments in California and Nevada, both from British Columbia, would need to pay at least $10,000 each to get to Sarnia for the finals, he said.
Games will be played at the Sarnia Sports and Entertainment Centre, Sarnia Arena, Point Edward Arena and both ice surfaces at Clearwater, as well as the Greenwood Recreation Centre in Petrolia. The latter venue replaces lost ice time due to the closure of Sarnia’s Germain Park Arena.
Again this year, the Moore Sports Complex is not available because it’s being used for OMHA playoffs on the Silver Stick weekend.
The opening ceremonies for the tournament will take part prior to the Sting game against the Oshawa Generals at the SSEC on Friday, Jan. 15.
“We’ll have the captains from the various teams (in the tournament) come out and will line up around the boards and (Sarnia Sting coach and co-owner) Derian Hatcher will be dropping the ceremonial puck,” said Colbran.
He said the economic impact of the tournament is in the millions of dollars, with every hotel room in Sarnia booked for the weekend, while others teams will stay in accommodations in London, Chatham, Wallaceburg, Forest, Grand Bend and Michigan.
While the focus of the tournament is on the ice, the strength of the event has and always will be those who work countless hours behind the scenes, Colbran said.
“I can’t say enough about the volunteers. They’re just phenomenal.”
Admission to the tournament is free.
Colbran said preliminary ideas for the 50th anniversary of the Sarnia tournament in 2019 include the possibility of bringing back the original Silver Stick to the local tournament. It has been on display in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto since 1982.
Over the next several weekends, there are also North American women’s finals in Sarnia (Jan. 22-24) and boys finals set for Mooretown, Port Huron, Michigan and Forest.
Check www.silverstick.org for a full list of all the schedules.