The Montague Norsemen Pee Wee AAs headed to Ontario Saturday for the 50th Annual Goodwill Games exchange with the Mount Hamilton Blues.
President of Hockey Canada, Tom Renney, sent a video message congratulating both hockey associations.
Hockey PEI also wishes the teams well on this year’s adventure.
“We can only hope there’s 50 more,” Mr Renney said.
“The exchange has seen two generations of fathers and sons ... and fathers with daughters play as well as one family having five children play in the exchange. This year’s team has players from four different hockey teams from five different communities participating. The team is also coached by former exchange players Luke Collings and Nolan Irving.
“This exchange has meant a lot to both communities and it is difficult to find anyone in eastern PEI who has not be touched by this exchange in one form or another. Montague is a town of 2,000 people in eastern PEI and Hamilton proper has a population of over 500,000 ... what these kids and parents do have in common though is a love for the game of hockey and all the experiences it can bring. All the players are billeted in pairs with a player from the host team each year,” Mr Renney said.
The two teams have alternated hosting the three-game tournament and opening their homes to billet the visitors since the games started in 1968 and many enduring friendships have been forged along the way.
“Some of the families from Ontario have been coming back here for 30 years,” said Goodwill ambassador Mike Annear, who played in the tournament in the early 80s.
The 18 members of the Norsemen team include players from A, AA and AAA teams, a few of them veterans from last year’s tournament which was hosted by the Montague Minor Hockey Association at the Cavendish Farms Wellness Centre. Thirty parents travelled with the PEI team this year, each paying their own way for bus fare and motel accommodations in Hamilton.
Nobody who wants to play has been turned away in recent years, Mr Annear said, so while the Montague Pee Wee AAs were recruited first, spots were opened up on the 2018 team for a few players, including some from Morell, St Peter’s and Belfast.
“I hope it’s a good year,” said Thomas MacEachern who plays defence for the Norsemen. “I know we’re definitely going to have fun with a bunch of the boys.”
The team travelled overnight by bus with a switch of drivers along the way, arriving in Hamilton on Sunday. While the players settled in with their billet families, the parents, who were staying at a local motel, attended a welcoming banquet that evening.
The opening ceremonies and the first of three games took place on Monday, March 26. The final game will be played Thursday, March 29.
Several returning members of the Norsemen team were still young enough to take part in the 2018 tournament and their families billeted Hamilton players last year, but being the guests in stranger’s homes this year was new for them, Mr Annear said.
It doesn’t take long for the young players to overcome any shyness they might feel at first and the experience has given the kids from both provinces a new awareness of some of the differences between small town and big city life.
“They’re experiencing a different culture. When the Hamilton team comes here we try to have a lot of down time for them.”
That means collected shells from Island beaches, watching how lobster traps are built and skating on a pond. They get to experience what it’s like to live in the country where you can’t see the neighbours’ houses - all fascinating to the visitors from Hamilton, Mr Annear said.
Likewise, for most of the young Norsemen. The size and pace of the cities they’ll visit in Ontario will be very different from what they’ve grown up with here on PEI.
“These kids get thrown together and they get to be quick friends,” Mr Annear said.
Mason Power, who will play with the Norsemen, said he’s been talking on Snapchat to his host Blues player. He said he was feeling comfortable about being the family’s guest and he and his team mates are looking forward to all the activities that are planned for them.
On Tuesday, the players will visit Niagara Falls and indoor water park. They will return to Hamilton for game two in the evening and on Wednesday, a packed day in Toronto includes a visit to the Ripley Aquarium, CN tower and the Hockey Hall of Fame. This will be capped off with an American Hockey League game between the Toronto Marlies and the Laval Rockets at the Ricoh Coliseum.
The team has a free day to catch their breath on Thursday before the final game of the tournament, and then they hop on the bus and travel through the night back to PEI.
“It’s all about having fun,” said Tyson McGrath, who will also plays with the Norsemen. Tyson certainly wasn’t downplaying how much his team wants this win, but sportsmanship and friendly competition are definitely at the heart of the Goodwill Games.
Mr Annear said organizing the event could not happen without the help every year of parents who make the financial commitment to cover their own expenses for the trip and their time to fundraise and chaperone.
Scotiabank was an important sponsor for the second year in a row, contributing $4,000 towards the costs for the team this year, Mr Annear said.