Years and years before Rick Macleish and Andre Dupont were winning Stanley Cups with the Flyers, before Mark Howe was weaving his Hall of Fame career, before Ian Laperriere became one of hockey’s most respected tough guys and before Eric Lindros and Jeremy Roenick made their indelible marks on the game, they all had one thing in common – and it came for each of them when they were only 12 years old.
Since 1960, some of the world’s best players in the 12-and-under Pee Wee age group have gathered each year in Quebec City for the Quebec International Pee-Wee Tournament. The event has grown to the point that well over 2,000 players take part each year in what is the oldest and most prestigious youth hockey tournament in the world. It is similar, both in its scope and in its age range, to the Little League World Series.
For the 24th year, the Flyers are represented by a team of Delaware Valley players, and it departed Friday morning for a week-long stay in Canada. It started out as a tryout camp with 200 participants last summer and was first whittled down to 80 players before the final roster of 18 was selected following an overnight camp in July. It opened tournament play on Sunday with a 5-2 win over St. Louis in front of a crowd of over 10,000.
“The Flyers and the Flyers Alumni provide financial support to help offset some of the expenses that the families incur,” said Rob Baer, the Flyers’ manager of youth and amateur hockey who is along on the trip to help provide support to the group. “We also host the team at a Flyers game each year.”
The head coach of the team is Pat Ferrill, the Sr. Vice President, Rink Management & Development for Comcast Spectacor. Ferrill has overseen the team for over a decade. This year he’s assisted by former Flyers goaltender Brian Boucher, who has become a national media sensation as a hockey analyst for NBC and the NHL Network. He’s taking some time to help coach the team, which includes his son Tyler.
The tournament has seen more than 1,100 former participants go on to play in the NHL. Michael Raffl and Michael Del Zotto both participated in the tournament, as did Laperriere, who said his experience in the 1988 event was his first time playing on a big stage.
“We were playing out of Montreal, and it was a great honor to represent the city,” Laperriere said. “We were all amazed to play in front of 14,000 people!”
Del Zotto was a member of the Markham Waxers, a club out of Markham, Ontario. He played on that team with Steven Stamkos, but despite that, the team “didn’t do too well” to Del Zotto’s recollection. Other memories stand out though.
“We billeted with a family, which was nerve-wracking,” he said. “Also snow tubing. That’s what I remember most. They had these huge snow tubing hills where the skiing was. We went two days and it was some of the most fun I’d ever had in my life.”
As for Raffl, it was an even bigger journey. He came to Quebec from his home in Austria with a group connected to the Austrian National Team.
“It was our first time seeing a big arena like that,” he said. “There were actually a bunch of people watching those games, so it was unreal. It was one of my best memories of junior hockey.”
It’s still a giant stage for this year’s team – this is the first year the tournament is being held in the brand-new Videotron Centre, the 18,000-seat home of the Quebec Remparts that replaced Le Colisee, the former home of the Quebec Nordiques.
To follow the progress of the Flyers Quebec Pee-Wee Team, read the blog HERE and follow @FlyersCommunity on Twitter.