Change is good.
The Burnaby Holiday Bantam Hockey tournament has been a staple on the minor hockey calendar for 53 years, ebbing and flowing at one point to being the hottest international bantam series in North America.
But a downturn in interest recently presented both a challenge and an opportunity for the game’s backers.
The result is the Pat Quinn Classic, a new label for the Burnaby Minor Hockey Association’s tournament which runs Dec. 27 to 30, a change that supporters say will be just like its namesake – competitive, focused on fair play and a lot of fun.
“I think obviously it’s a big change, renaming the tournament the Pat Quinn Classic,” said Burnaby’s Cliff Ronning, well-versed in local and international hockey fare. “It’s about rebooting it to ensure that it becomes a high-level tournament, with elite competition.”
Ronning, who played in the tourney some 30 years ago en route to becoming an NHL scoring star, said that as honourary chair his role will be to ensure that the event matches the integrity and intention of its namesake, who passed away in 2014.
“He was such a great person, and I felt that to keep his name, not so much as keep it going or alive, but to make it something the younger generations to come are aware of, that’s why I stepped forward,” said Ronning, who is serving as the honourary chairman of the tournament. “Hockey for Pat was about competing at the highest level, sportsmanship and for the love for the game.
“As a person he just made everyone around him better.”
The press conference held Tuesday at Rogers Arena drew fellow former Canucks Kirk McLean and Jyrki Lumme, as well as Kalli Quinn, Pat’s daughter. Also in attendance were representatives of the city of Burnaby, Tourism Burnaby and the Burnaby Minor Hockey Association.
When the idea first surfaced, it was Ronning who made sure the family endorsed the idea, and that the framework matched the man it would be honouring.
Other partners stepped up, from Tourism Burnaby, Bosa Properties, the Ritchie Brothers Auctioneers, Shaw Cable and Dueck Auto Group. The Burnaby Firefighters Charitable Society is also onboard.
For the person who ran the tournament for the past 20 years, new blood and a newer direction was a good thing. Burnaby school trustee and BMHA executive administrator Larry Hayes said it was obvious that change was needed.
“The last couple of years have been challenging,” said Hayes. “The biggest test was when Kamloops (International Bantam) tournament decided three years ago to move theirs to the Christmas break, putting us in direct competition.
“We were competing with a single-purpose organization and the impact was pretty obvious.”
Last year, the Burnaby tourney only attracted nine entries, down from the usual 16.
Already, the new moniker has paid dividends, with this year’s tournament filled with 24 bantam teams from as far away as Chicago, Los Angeles and Alaska. There are two bantam divisions: AAA-elite and AAA bantam, attracting such hockey factories as Okanagan, Shawnigan Lake, the Burnaby Winter Club and Yale (Abbotsford) academies, as well as the Notre Dame (Saskatchewan) Hounds. Canadian content includes Lethbridge, Nanaimo, Cloverdale and Kelowna teams, to name a few.
This year, the program has added an eight-team peewee elite division, with clubs from Seafair, North Shore, Langley and the lone overseas entry – the Japan Samurai.
Another addition is the Vancouver Canucks alumni, who will face off in a fundraiser game at the Copeland arena against coaches from the participating teams.
“Since (the name change) leaked out, so many hockey programs have contacted us about getting in,” said Ronning. “Interest is there.”
Darryl Mah, president of BMHA, said the impact has been significant, considering last year’s tournament reflected some tough times.
“It’s put the tournament back on the map in terms of bantam tournaments,” said Mah. “Over the past few years it’s been tough, there has been more competition for teams and sponsors. Now we’ve got the Tourism Burnaby and the experience of Inside Edge Hockey Training people operating the tournament… We have maxed out our ice availability and will have some games at the Burnaby Winter Club and North Shore Winter Club.”
The tourney will be based out of the Bill Copeland Sports Complex and the Kensington Arena.
Among the luminaries who have competed in the tournament over the years were Ronning, Joe Sakic, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Kyle Turris and Paul Kariya.
The trophy the elite bantam teams will be battling for was something that had to be significant, said the one-time Vancouver Canucks star.
“This trophy is huge, it’s six inches taller than the Stanley Cup and when we brought it out it was a big presence in the room,” said Ronning. “The Pat Quinn Classic is all about a competitive tournament that will honour a great man… The inscription on the tournament was something Pat truly believed in – ‘Follow your dreams, listen to your heart, obey your passion.’”
The Elite division kicks off Dec. 27 with the Burnaby Winter Club facing Shawnigan Lake Academy (at Bill Copeland Complex); Chicago Mission v Lethbridge (BWC); and Juan de Fuca v Delta Academy (NSWC).
Bantam AAA action starts Dec. 27 with Delta Academy v Ridge Meadows (at Burnaby Lake arena); Cloverdale v Peninsula (BWC); Phoenix jr. Coyotes v Okanagan Hockey Academy (Copeland); and Seattle v Anaheim jr. Ducks (NSWC).
The tournament continues until Wednesday, Dec. 30 when the bantam AAA final goes at 1:30 p.m., followed by the Elite final at 4:15 p.m.
For more information, including the draw, visit www.patquinnclassic.com.