The largest minor hockey tournament in Sudbury, and likely one of the largest tournaments in Northern Ontario, is coming to the city for the next two weekends.
It will be the 53rd annual International Silver Stick tournament and will see hundreds of visitors in the city, said tournament co-director Peter Michelutti.
The event is different from most other hockey tournaments in that teams compete to represent one of a handful of Canadian regions.
The Sudbury tournament is one of the regions in its own right. Teams that win their division in Sudbury automatically get to advance to the international tournament.
Michelutti said the event will allow fans to see some exciting minor hockey in four local arenas. This is especially true in the case for the U18A and double-A categories.
The event will feature more than 2,000 players from 97 teams from all across Northeastern Ontario. There are also teams from Toronto and other Southern Ontario towns making the trip North to show their stuff.
The teams will represent players in age categories from U10AA all the way to U18AA. There will also be U11A, U13A, U14A, U15A, U16A and U18A teams.
Along with seeing some of the best minor hockey teams from Sudbury, fans will get to see hockey teams from North Bay, Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie, Rouyn-Noranda, Cochrane, Marathon, Wawa, Thunder Bay, Kapuskasing and Hearst. Michelutti said the tournament is popular with the teams because they get to play plenty of hockey.
"It's a big stepping stone for the team. Each team has guaranteed four games. And they could play as many as seven if they get to the finals. So it could be seven games over four days," he said.
Games will be played in the Countryside Arena in Sudbury's South End, the Carmichael Arena by Minnow Lake, the McLelland Arena in Copper Cliff and the T.M.Davies Arena in Lively.
Michelutti said the annual event gives a strong boost to the city's sports tourism economy. He said it is expected that every hotel room in the city has been booked for the next two weekends to accommodate players, parents, team staff and fans. Michelutti said this takes in roughly 3,700 room bookings.
He also praised the scores of local volunteers that he said are making the Silver Stick "the best hockey tournament in Northern Ontario."
Craig Maki, the District-8 (Sudbury) representative of the Northern Ontario Hockey Association (NOHA) agreed with Michelutti about the importance of the Silver Stick for promoting minor hockey.
"It's a phenomenal event," said Maki.
"They do absolutely everything to provide opportunities for young hockey players to play with their peers. There's obviously a financial windfall for the community of Sudbury. It's a phenomenally well-run tournament. It's a well-oiled machine. And from my perspective, if there's anything they need, I'd like to be there to help. But they do such a great job that they've got it under control."
Maki said the event brings back great memories for him since he played in the Silver Stick when he was a boy.
"I go back to when I was a kid, so I'm going back to the 70s. And I played in Silver Stick. Okay, and I still have the fondest of memories. We actually ended up winning a couple times. We went to Sarnia. And we went to Port Huron," he remembered.
Maki said one of the reasons for the tournament is to expose younger players to team-building and ways for self-improvement.
"You're going to create fond memories. You're going to create friendships, you're going to develop as a player, you're going to develop as a person. It's all those leadership and team-building skills that make everybody you know, a successful adult later on in life. And that, you know, when it comes to hockey, we can develop greater citizens," said Maki.
Len Gillis covers health care and mining for Sudbury.com.