From the early years of Ray Allison, Gord Kluzak, Barry Pederson, Doug Bodger and Greg Adams to the later years of Brent Gilchrist, Jeff Finley, Richard Matvichuk, Matt Higgins, Brad Larsen, Morgan Rielly, Josh Morrisey, Mathew Barzal and Jason Podollan, the Vernon Pee Wee Invitational Coca-Cola Hockey Tournament has always held up its theme of The Stars of Tomorrow are Here Today.
Now entering its 50th year, the eight-team event again expects to showcase some of the best 13-year-olds in the land in a tourney which has featured teams from Barrie, Ont. to California and Alaska. The host Vernon Watkin Motors Mustangs has won nine championships.
Keith Green, current tourney committee chairman and pushing towards 20 years on the board, said making it to 50 had to be a sure thing. It hasn’t been held since 2020 due to the pandemic.
“Our committee members have been chomping at the bit to make sure we meet this milestone. Fifty years of committee members that put all that time in to make this a great tournament, it was vitally important we pull this one off and try to make it the best tournament to date,” said Green.
The tourney goes Feb. 9-12 at Kal Tire Place North.
The founding tournament committee, all directors with minor hockey, included Len Miller, Chum Kaneda, Al Madden, Jack Boutillier, Frank Flasch, Les York, Ed O’Brien and Doug Bulwer. It was Madden who suggested that Vernon hold a tournament during its annual Winter Carnival since Quebec was doing such.
The inaugural tournament, in 1972, saw the Saanich Braves take the Amy Myles Memorial A title, 9-3 over West Vancouver’s Hollyburn Winter Club.
Vernon’s team in year two, coached by Walt Trentini, had a winning roster of Rex Slizak, George Crookshank, Earl Sophonow, Earl Smith, Glen Fester, Gordie Howard, Rod Trentini, Scott Madden, Dave Fish, Jay Mondin, Lester Creelman, Fabian Alexis, Darcy Anderson, Jed Sparrow, Tony Mahood and Chris Grant.
The Mustangs stopped Saanich 4-2 in overtime in the A final.
Sparrow, a longtime director, was also on that championship team and maybe part of the only father-son winning combination since his son, Colton, was on the 2006 double overtime win over Alaska.
“I loved that tournament; it was the greatest thing I ever played in. It was a lot of fun. My wife (Chris) took my trophy and put both (Colton) our names on it.”
Sparrow has also enjoyed working with his older brother Jim, who has served close to 25 years as a director. Chris has kept it in the family by running 50-50 sales for several years.
Hubie Petersen was behind the bench of the 1980 team that stopped St. Albert 6-3 in the A final. That Vernon team included four players selected in the 1986 NHL Entry Draft – Gilchrist, Finley, Bruce Major and Jay Stark.
Garry Pruden, among the most respected committee members with 30 years experience, is jacked about finally getting year 50 in after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic.
“This is 50 and we’re extremely happy with the teams that are coming. We’re excited about what’s going to happen in the tournament, which is always great and as everybody knows, the past history includes lots of past NHLers.”
The tournament committee has given out thousands of dollars in scholarships and to other organizations in need. Directors Charlie Briskham and Clark Inglis led a huge $10,000 donation for a new time clock at Kal Tire Place.
The Rienie Holland Memorial Award for Best Volunteer and the Ernie Kowal Memorial Award for Best Coach are both given out annually.
All teams get a private dressing room and five regulation games. The Mustangs get rock star status by riding on the float in the annual Vernon Winter Carnival Parade.
Kevin Mitchell is the retired sports editor of the Morning Star
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