Outdoor holiday tourney coming to Sacramento
The American Hockey League (AHL) went all in on California this past spring, creating a five-team division to house the top farm teams of the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks, as well as the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers.
That gave Rich Cubin an idea.
Cubin, the co-owner and vice president of RS Ice Sports and Entertainment Inc., moved to San Diego two years ago and took note of hockey’s exponential growth in California. He wondered if there was an opportunity to merge an outdoor hockey game experience for professional teams with a tournament that allows hundreds of youth hockey players and recreational skaters a chance to play and skate outside – something his company had facilitated in several Northeastern markets.
So his company, a strategic business partner (Hockey Time Productions) and the California Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA) four months ago began planning what’s come to be known as the Golden State Hockey Rush – a massive youth hockey tournament (actually six of them) following the AHL’s first outdoor game in California on Dec. 18.
The AHL game will pit the Bakersfield Condors (Edmonton’s top affiliate) against the Stockton Thunder (Calgary’s) at Raley Field in Sacramento.
“There’s so much growth with hockey in California, it seemed like a natural,” Cubin said.
The holiday invitational tournament will run in segments from Dec. 19 until Jan. 3, and include multiple divisions ranging from Mites to Midgets and high school teams, spanning levels from B to A to AA. By offering six segments, clubs can choose a travel slot that works best for them and their families. After offering CAHA teams a chance to play in the event, registration was opened up to USA Hockey’s Pacific District.
It’s expected as many as 100 teams will participate, meaning it’s possible nearly 2,000 young hockey players will experience playing outdoors in a stadium atmosphere.
“This will be an amazing, unforgettable event in the lives of these kids,” CAHA president Steve Laing said, adding that a disabled game also will be part of the event as well. “Most likely they’ll never experience this again. It’ll be a dream come true and a memory that lasts them a lifetime.
“Being affiliated with a pro hockey game will only add to the experience.”
Cubin’s company has staged similar events, such as Frozen Fenway in Boston, which stood on its own, and staged ones to complement various NHL Winter Classics.
“I want an event that showcases hockey families can afford to attend,” Cubin said, adding there will be a massive interactive hockey zone that will allow tournament participants to qualify individually for various skills competitions and expose fans to hockey’s various aspects in a hands-on fashion.
The tournament will include all-star games and championship games at every level.
Cubin has spent 20 years working in the game after departing from the Navy in 1995. He worked with the Norfolk Admirals since their AHL inception in 2001 and helped build a youth hockey program in Virginia. Being able to combine his passion for the sport with his day job has been rewarding.
“Combining a unique ice hockey experience alongside winter-based entertainment has really been our focus at RS Ice Sports,” he said. “Now that I live in California and have been exposed to the overwhelming hockey movement here, it seems as if all my efforts have come full circle with the ability to combine all my years of experience in every side of the industry in this new and exciting annual event.”
That’s right. Cubin envisions the tournament becoming a yearly spectacle.
“We’re hoping to move from north to south every other event, and I wouldn’t rule out possibly having one in the north and the south one year,” he said. “What if there was a matchup of the San Diego Gulls (the Ducks’ top affiliate) versus the Ontario Reign (the Kings)?
“Think of the possibilities.”
– Chris Bayee