Jr. Sharks’ Pee Wee AAA team heading to prestigious international tournament next month in Quebec
The Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament is the most prestigious minor hockey tournament in the world.
And the San Jose Jr. Sharks will have their 12U AAA team representing the organization at the event that boasts 120 teams from across the globe and runs from Feb. 12-23.
Playing in the AA Elite division, the Jr. Sharks open against the Quebec Nordiques on Sunday, Feb. 16.
Teams all have the chance to play their first game at the Videotron Center. If they lose, they will continue the tournament in the “second chance” portion of the tournament, which takes place at the Pavillon de la Jeunesse.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Jr. Sharks head coach Owen Nolan. “Obviously, playing there for five years (with the NHL’s Quebec Nordiques) and having my son (Dylan) get the opportunity to go play there and experience everything, I’m really looking forward to it.”
On the ice, Nolan is chomping at the bit to see how his team matches up against the best Pee Wee clubs in the world.
“The games will play out however they’re going to play out,” Nolan said. “We just try and teach our kids, give them the skills and tools to succeed and, hopefully, they execute them during the tournament. For me, it’s the whole experience of living with a family, playing against different teams that you haven’t seen before, experiencing the old city of Quebec and whatnot.
“It’s just going to be a total experience for the kids and I think we’re all, including the parents, really looking forward to seeing the kids take this whole journey through the whole tournament.”
“I don’t think so,” Nolan said. “We teach them certain skills and certain systems throughout the year and to play a different style or try and learn a different system going to a tournament would not benefit us whatsoever. We teach these kids ways to succeed and, hopefully, they execute that when they are on the ice.”
Off the ice, the tournament is loaded with activities galore.
Pin trading is a longstanding tradition of the tournament. Several teams have one made in their own image and give it as a gift to the opposing team during their games. The players, and even some adults, have fun trading them and doing everything to get the most beautiful pin.
Playing mini-hockey in the corridors of the amphitheater is a must-see activity that has been going on for many years at the tournament. Young people bring a little stick, a ball and that’s it. In addition, the song “Vive les Pee-Wee du Carnaval,” written by André De Chavigny, plays at the beginning of each game during the tournament.
“These kids here growing up in California don’t have snow outside every day or have the opportunities to go skate on ponds or go sledding and whatnot, whereas some of us who grew up in Canada had the opportunity to do that,” said Nolan. “We didn’t always go to the local rinks. We went to the local ponds with shovels and in all of our hockey gear and went and skated on the ponds every day. Just to be able to have that experience and to see how we did that as kids growing up, I think these kids will enjoy that quite a bit.”
Nolan also said he doesn’t think the players will fully grasp the prestige of the tournament until it’s right in front of their faces.
“I’m not sure they all understand how big of a tournament this is,” Nolan said. “I know they’re all excited to go and experience something different. I’m excited to go to this tournament. As a kid, I never had the opportunity to go play in this tournament, but playing there (in the NHL), you knew it was a big event and you knew the whole town was abuzz with all these young kids coming in as potential future stars of the NHL.
“I can’t wait to see their faces when they go into the rink and see that many people watching them play. I know if I was a kid that young, it would be eye-opening and very exciting, so I’m really excited to see how they react to it.”
Nolan added that going back to Quebec will have sentimental meaning for himself personally. The Nordiques (now Colorado Avalanche) selected Nolan first overall in the 1990 NHL Draft. He moved with the franchise to Denver in 1995 and also played with the Sharks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Phoenix Coyotes, Calgary Flames and Minnesota Wild as part of his 1200-game NHL career.
“I’m really looking forward to going there,” said Nolan. “I played my first five years in the NHL there and the fans were great to us, the city was unbelievable and just to go back and see some of the old places, the restaurants, the scenery and whatnot, meet some of the fans that were there back when I played there, I think it’s going to be an overall great time.”
Travel wise, the Jr. Sharks will fly out of San Francisco and land in Toronto, where they’ll fly into Quebec and hop on busses once there.
Clearly, bonding time will be aplenty.
“I think it can certainly be a turning point to this season,” Nolan said. “Whenever you get a group together, it doesn’t change from when you’re a kid or when you’re playing in the pros. Sometimes, that bonding time, hanging together on a plane, everyone is together, including the coaches, and it’s quality time together and you create those bonds as friends and teammates and, hopefully, that all continues on the ice and you all play for each other.”
“We hope to make some noise in the playoffs. Our process is to make sure that our kids get better each and every week, each and every month. As long as we see improvements and as long as we see kids going on an upward swing as hockey players, getting better as individuals and as teammates, then we know our program is on the right path.”
Knowing there are always rumors and talk of the NHL going back to Quebec, Nolan would love to see a team in town.
“It’s a passionate group,” Nolan said. “Our games were always sold out. They love their hockey. I don’t know if it’s going to happen in the future, but I’d love to see a team go back there. They’d be over the moon for it, but I just don’t know if it’s in the cards right now.”
The Jr. Sharks’ 12U AAA team is made up of skaters Otaro Inoue, Tanner Fast, Steven Wang, Dylan Nolan, Colten Fazio, Carrick Stevens, Samuel Janik, Joshua Phillips, Isaiah Castro, Matthew LoScalzo, Griffin Brown, Thomas Corneillie, Jayden Balan and Andrei Nabokov and goaltenders Bennett Law and Nathaniel Madrigal.
Top photo/Steve Deschenes
— Matt Mackinder
(Jan. 22, 2020)