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Quebec Peewee Reflections

by Paul Hendrick / Toronto Maple Leafs

As the nation celebrated Hockey Day In Canada on Saturday there is no better reflection of the game at its grassroots level than the Quebec International PeeWee Tournament.

It's been a mainstay in the sport since its inception in 1960, attracting the best pre-teens from around the world. Seven current Toronto Maple Leafs played in the event with Peter Holland actually winning it in 2004 while playing for the Brampton Capitals.

"We had a core group of 10 or 11 guys who played together for seven or eight years, the parent group got along really well and we had a great coach in Bill Bathgate," said Holland.

The Quebec tournament has produced 1420 NHL players over its 55 years but Holland was the only Brampton grad on that team to make it to the big leagues.

"We had a tremendous camaraderie amongst that group, we went snow tubing, toured the old city and beat Team Illinois in the final before twelve thousand fans," said Holland. "It was pretty neat as a 12-year-old to play in front of that many people."

Coincidentally, Leaf teammate Richard Panik starred for Bratislava, Slovakia in that same tournament.

Neither he nor Holland could forecast that each would eventually be teammates in junior at Guelph and eventually in the NHL with Toronto.

Panik's Slovakian team didn't win but the memory of playing in Quebec City remains special.

"It was my first trip to North America. Even though we lost our first game, playing in that rink (La Colisée) in front of so many people was a fantastic experience for me."

Other Leafs who played in the event include Jonathan Bernier (Laval) in 2001, Dion Phaneuf (Edmonton) in 1999, David Clarkson (Marlies) and David Booth (Detroit) in 1998.

Stephane Robidas not only played in the tournament, he played in it twice in 1990 and 1991.

The Sherbrooke product has been a mainstay in the National Hockey League for 18 seasons....but his initial taste of the big time began in Quebec City.

"It was unbelievable, the experience was just incredible."

Robidas added, "I remember my first year (1990), we were playing right after the Little Nordiques in their game opener. La Colisée was sold out and as a kid you see all those fans, you're 11 and 12 years old and to see that many people watching peewee hockey was truly incredible."

For the Robidas family, the circle completes itself this week with Stephane's son, Justin, skating in the tournament playing for the Sherbrooke Phoenix.

The memories for a new generation begin again and amongst this year's class of pee wee hockey talent will emerge a select group who one day will play in the NHL as well.

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