In February 2011, the 52nd Quebec Pee Wee Hockey Tournament will take place at the Pepsi Colisee in Quebec City. Elite Pee Wee Level teams from all over the world will be present – including the Jr. Islanders, a team comprised of Long Island locals.
Jr. Islanders coaches Bob Nystrom and Benoit Hogue, both former Islanders, love the tournament. “Well it’s one of the largest and best attended tournaments in the world,” Nystrom said. “There are teams from across the world whether it is Russia, Mexico or Japan; there are teams from all over.”
The age requirement makes playing in this tournament a once-in a lifetime opportunity. To participate this year, players need to be born in 1998, making them eligible for play at the Pee Wee Level.
Even though the tournament is more than six-months away, preparations are already in progress for the upcoming tournament. Jr. Islanders coaches Nystrom and Hogue, held a two-day hockey camp on Tuesday, June 29 and Wednesday, June 30.
“I think most of all we just really want to have an opportunity to see some of the kids that will be eligible to go to Quebec this year. We just want to see how this group of kids rank from a talent standpoint. Then it’s so much easier to evaluate them come the [invite-only tryout] in the fall,” Nystrom said.
Coach Hogue said he wanted to know which players were dedicated to making the team. “We want to get a good view of who wants to come and who’s dedicated on trying to make the team by coming this early,” Hogue said. “We are looking for kids that love to play, love to win and have a little passion for the game.”
These camps will allow the elite hockey players on Long Island the opportunity to showcase their skills. By attending both camps, Nystrom and Hogue will see how the players have improved over the summer.
“Quebec is a no hitting tournament, so realistically we’re looking for more skilled players that can skate pretty well, handle the puck and are able to play their position,” Nystrom said. “More than anything else, it’s a skating and passing tournament.”
If you are interested in this unique opportunity and missed the first camp, a second two-day camp is set for August 28 and 29. In September, select players from the summer camps will attend the invitation-only tryout, and the 2011 Jr. Islanders team will then be finalized. At that point, the Jr. Islanders team will have a series of practices, in conjunction with their travel hockey team, getting them ready for February.
The 10-day tournament is an all-around amazing experience. Winning the tournament’s gold medal may be each kid’s dream, but making new friends is also a big part of the trip.
“It’s not only the hockey but our players get a chance to really interact with all the teams and also see a totally different culture in Quebec City,” Nystrom said. “It’s a beautiful city, it’s unique in the respect that it’s a very old city and the players are exposed to a different culture.”
Living with a French-Canadian billet family is part of the experience throughout the 10-day tournament. A billet family is the French term for host family. A tradition that is unique to Canadian hockey, billeting is very common in Canada at the tournament and then also in junior hockey. By the end of the experience, many players and their billet families have built life-long friendships.
“We always felt that it was most important to have the kids live with families,” Nystrom said. “That way they get to experience a French Canadian family and see what their lifestyle is like and how different it is from New York. More than anything else, they develop long lasting relationships with these folks, oftentimes the billets come down to New York to visit and vice versa. It’s just a cultural thing.”
The Jr. Islanders also attend a few fun-packed field trips while they’re in Canada. “We take the kids to the snow park every year,” Hogue said. “It’s a park in the mountains and the kids go down the slopes on tubes. This year we are also going to give more time to the parents to spend with their kids and the billet family so the billet family can take the family out and see different parts of the city.”
But the most important thing is that the Jr. Islanders players enjoy their once-in-a-lifetime experience of playing in the tournament.
“Most of the kids that have competed the last few years, have told me that this is the best experience,” Hogue said. “I still have contact with some of the parents from the previous years. Their kids loved it and they will always remember playing in the Quebec tournament.”