Outdoor youth tournament set for Bakersfield this winter
It’s no secret that outdoor hockey has taken off in popularity over the last few years.
The NHL’s Winter Classic and Stadium Series have been overwhelming successes, bringing the game back to its pond hockey roots and delivering added visibility for the sport.
This winter, youth hockey players from across the Western United States and beyond will get to experience the thrill of bringing the game outdoors, as International Hockey Events will bring an outdoor tournament to Bakersfield, Calif.
Produced by Golden State Hockey Rush and hosted by the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Bakersfield Condors as part of their Three-Way Chevrolet Condorstown Winterfest, the USA Hockey-sanctioned event will run from Dec 21-Jan. 7 and will be punctuated by an outdoor game between the Edmonton Oilers affiliate Condors and L.A. Kings affiliate Ontario Reign on its final night.
“We’ve had an overwhelming response already from kids, parents and coaches,” said Barry Sherer, president of International Hockey Events. “The uniqueness of getting to play hockey outdoors is definitely going to be the biggest drawing card.
“It’s a great location just north of L.A., and it’s driving distance from San Diego and Northern California. It gives all the California players an opportunity to experience this. Bakersfield also has direct flights from Phoenix and Colorado, and it’s close to Nevada and Utah, too. We’re hoping to get representation from all those states.”
Parents and coaches can find more information about the tournament at www.InternationalHockeyEvents.com and can register there through Nov. 15 or until the event sells out.
While the AHL game will be the centerpiece of the 18-day hockey festival, event organizers knew there was a great opportunity to get youth hockey players involved and make the most of the resources it will take to build a temporary outdoor rink in Memorial Stadium, the 20,000-seat home of Bakersfield College football.
Sherer is expecting 120-130 teams to participate. Teams will be guaranteed four games, with at least two of those outdoors and all division championship games outdoors (weather permitting). In addition to the Memorial Stadium rink, games will be played at the home of the Bakersfield Jr. Condors, the SJCH Ice Center.
The tournament will feature divisions for nearly every age and skill level, with many offering two separate sessions, which Sherer said was designed to accommodate different school vacation schedules.
ACHA Divisions II and III will take the ice first from Dec. 21-23. There will also be a 16U AA tournament on those dates, and a second tournament for that division Jan. 2-6. An 8U track tournament will be offered from Dec. 26-28 as well.
From Dec. 26-28 and Jan. 2-6, the event will feature tournaments for 10U A, BB and B; 12U A, BB and B; and 14U A and B. From Dec. 29-Jan. 1, the event will offer tournaments for 12U AA, 14U AA; high school varsity DI/18U AA, DII and DIII/18U A; and high school junior varsity/16U A.
While International Hockey Events has put on youth and adult tournaments dating back to 1994, this marks the first time the company will organize an outdoor tournament. Sherer said he’s looking forward to the experience, especially since many of the participants will be playing outdoors for the first time in their lives.
Condors president Matt Riley said the Winterfest will include all types of activities to keep players busy and families entertained between games – public and family skates, obstacle courses, a kids play area, a zip line, snowman building area and more.
“We used to joke that it would be cool to have an outdoor rink here in Bakersfield,” Riley said. “It was half in jest, but we kept it in the back of our minds, and then when we saw the Kings and Ducks play down at Dodger Stadium, we started to think it was a real possibility here. We’re excited for the AHL game and for the opportunity to host a large-scale youth tournament.”
– Greg Ball