It started in Peterborough as a far-fetched idea to raise money for local hockey. Less than five years later, the Under the Lock Hockey Tournament is a growing youth competition that will provide an iconic backdrop to the annual nationwide celebration that is Hockey Day in Canada.
In the beginning, when it came time to find a locale for the local charity tournament, organizers settled on a unique spot. The tournament would take place outdoors on the Trent-Severn Canal in Peterborough, a spacious body of water located in the shadow of Lock 21, a hydraulic lift built in 1896 to help boats navigating the waters. For decades, Lock 21 boasted the title of world's largest hydraulic lift lock. It could soon be known as the site for one of the world's great outdoor hockey tournaments.
"At one point, we had city police officers who pulled up, put their skates on and played shinny hockey with the kids. That's the nature of the tournament," said Sanjeev Sukumaran, committee chair member for the Under the Lock tournament, which was first staged in 2009. "People come with their barbecues and heaters and cheer the kids on. They're right there."
Open to youth teams in seven different age groups, the event is officially sanctioned by the local hockey governing body and will be held on Feb. 9 and 10 to coincide with the annual Hockey Day in Canada festivities, some of which will be featured on the NHL Network.
Long before being involved in Canada's celebration of the national pastime, Under the Lock started with 16 teams competing on two outdoor rinks outfitted with end boards but no side boards. After featuring 48 teams last year, this year's tournament will welcome 63 squads and over 1,000 youth hockey players, some from as far away as the Quebec border.
"It started as a fundraiser and turned out to be what people were looking for in hockey. What it was meant to be," Sukumaran said. "That's why it's grown so much. That grassroots concept has spurred it on in a big way."
Over the course of an entire day spent celebrating the sport, Hockey Day in Canada will feature four NHL games involving all seven Canadian NHL teams, not to mention an Ontario Hockey League game between the Peterborough Petes and Soo Greyhounds as well as ancillary events attended by legends of the game. But the group having the most fun on Saturday just may be the kids competing under Lock 21.