Youth hockey tournament key part of All-Star Weekend

Thursday, 01.28.2016 / 5:55 PM
Shawn Roarke  - Director, Editorial

Zach Jackson, the hockey coordinator at Ford Ice Center in Antioch, Tenn., wanted to figure out a way to involve the growing local youth hockey movement into the celebrations surrounding the 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Game this weekend.

"Basically, the All-Star Game is a way to celebrate hockey in general and here in Nashville," Jackson said. "The All-Star Game is for the kids. They love seeing all of their guys in one place showing off their skills, and we wanted to tap into that."

There was no better way than to have a youth hockey tournament at the Ford Ice Center with the Nashville Junior Predators as the host team.

"It's a cool way to bring everybody together here during the weekend so they can enjoy the All-Star Game while giving some high-level teams some pretty good competition," Jackson said. "For us, it is a great opportunity to bring youth hockey teams into Nashville and build on that Smashville name that the city has built for itself."

The tournament features 30 teams with players whose birth years range from 2001 to 2006. Many come from hockey-mad areas, including NHL cities such as Washington D.C., New York, Florida, Arizona, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Carolina.

The teams will play 99 games from Friday to Sunday, using the three primary ice rinks in the Nashville metropolitan area: Ford Ice Center, Centennial Sportsplex and A-Game Sports Center. Each team will have five games during the weekend, but will be finished each day by the late afternoon in order to be able to enjoy the festivities surrounding the All-Star Game, including 2016 NHL Fan Fair presented by Bridgestone, the Bridgestone Winter Park, the Honda NHL All-Star Skills Competition and the All-Star Game itself.

"Teams from traditional hockey markets have the opportunity to come down here and experience our untraditional hockey market," Jackson said. "It's pretty cool in that regard."

Jackson, 25, is a symbol of that untraditional hockey market growth.

A native of the Washington, D.C. area, Jackson relocated to Nashville to take the job at Ford Ice Center. He played youth hockey for various teams in the Virginia area and played some club hockey with James Madison University.

After that his hockey travels took him to Serbia, where he served as a hockey instructor as part of the Hockey without Borders organization.

His time in Serbia served him well for his new position as hockey coordinator in an emerging market like Nashville.

Ford Ice Center has done extensive Learn to Play programs to get children and adults swept up by the excitement surrounding the Predators to try the game. Some enjoy it enough to stick with it and they are funneled into the various youth and adult programs, continuing the growth process that began in earnest when the Predators arrived in 1998.

"It makes it super fun when you see a kid come in and he wants to be [Nashville goalie] Pekka Rinne, and you get him on the ice and then two years later he is playing goalie for his youth team," Jackson said. "Stuff like that makes it all worthwhile."

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