Pee Wee Quebec Qualifier Tournament on tap for November
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Mid-November holds an opportunity for young hockey players in the state of Colorado unlike any other.
Every year since 2003, the Colorado Avalanche has hosted the Quebec Qualifier Tournament, which is open to all competitive Pee Wee teams in the state of Colorado (excluding non-tournament teams and AAA squads for competitive purposes).
And the prize for winning the Quebec Qualifier? An all-expenses paid trip to Quebec City for the largest, most prestigious Pee Wee hockey tournament in the world: the Quebec International Pee Wee Hockey Tournament, set for Feb. 10-21, 2016.
“The kids have no clue what they’re getting into when they go up there,” said tournament director Tyler Reddy, now in his third season of running the competition. “They think maybe it’s just going to be another tournament, but it can really be the experience of a lifetime for them.”
Indeed, by winning the Quebec Qualifier, an experience in itself playing games against the best Pee Wee teams in Colorado on the ice at the Pepsi Center, these young athletes punch their ticket to not only a truly unique tournament setting in a foreign country, but also for the chance to make memories off the ice as well.
The entire team will be decked out in Avalanche gear to represent the club during the tournament and the Avs will also host a practice for the team at the Pepsi Center where current players will be in attendance to skate with the team. Last year’s champion was the Boulder Bison and back in 2014, the champion Denver Jr. Pioneers received a call from Avalanche coach Patrick Roy wishing them luck before a big game in Quebec City.
The Colorado Thunderbirds AAA program also sends a team to Quebec on a yearly basis as well.
But the real excitement of the Quebec International Tournament, and where the partnership with the Avs takes this experience to new heights, lies in the culture immersion aspect of the trip.
Once the team lands in Quebec for the tournament, they will be split into pairs and placed with a French-Canadian billet family, or host family, to live with for the duration of the trip.
Billeting is a practice that is commonly used in Canada and the United States, where it’s not uncommon for a talented youngster to move away from home to play junior hockey at the age of 16 or 17, or even younger in some cases.
Last year, Boulder’s players sent back “Postcards from Quebec,” which are still featured on the Avalanche website. The players talked about their experiences on and off the ice, recounting a visit from former Avalanche general manager Pierre Lacroix and differences in the style of game from Canadian teams and other international squads.
But none expressed more excitement than when talking about the time spent with their billet families. One player on the Bison team got to go dog-sledding with his billet family. Another went snow tubing. Many played pond hockey and tried foods from a different culture for the very first time. By the time their two weeks in Quebec City were over, there were some emotional goodbyes for the Colorado youths.
“I was taken aback when I first saw the impact that billeting with the Canadian families on these kids,” Reddy said. “Players are crying as they say goodbye to these families they met just days ago.”
This year’s Quebec Qualifier runs Nov. 12-16 at the Pepsi Center, with the championship game getting underway at 6 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 16. That game will crown one battle-tested Colorado hockey team as the Colorado Jr. Avalanche and earn them the opportunity for the journey of a lifetime.
“They really do make lifelong memories and friendships from this trip,” Reddy said. “And that’s what makes it so special.”
— Zach Fogg