The seventh annual Winter Blast Tournament hosted by the Calgary Mountaineers Junior A Lacrosse Club took place in Calgary on December 22nd. Thirty-seven teams in six divisions competed in the unique one-day tournament, all for a chance to win the grand prize – a giant bag of candy.
The idea for Winter Blast was born in 2011 from then Mountie coaches Rick Windle and Duane Bratt, whose goal was to market the team and build community relations. Bratt recalled a story about the very first Winter Blast involving the midget age group: “We only had one floor, so it was a much smaller thing, and I remember because we started at 6 a.m. and the last game ended at 1 a.m. … I wanted to go home and they’re carting around the candy like it’s the Stanley Cup.”
The tournament is structured as a round-robin, with games lasting 25 minutes and featuring four on four play. Players pick their own teams, which consist of nine runners and a goalie. Registration features a boy’s division that starts at the novice age group and runs through to midget. In the girl’s division, there is a peewee/bantam category and a midget category. All games are refereed by current and former Mounties.
“Teams are not created or registered based on geographical areas or skill levels as the community or club levels are,” said Jon Luitwieler, tournament organizer. “Teams are made up of a diverse group of kids… from all areas of Alberta. The best part about this is that it gives kids from different skill levels the opportunity to play with other kids, and it also allows kids who don’t normally play together on the same team an opportunity to play together.”
It was a day full of great moments, including a shootout in the novice finals. A large crowd gathered to watch the end of the game including a number of Mountie players who stood on the field and cheered on each player as they took their shot. After eight thrilling rounds, Team Williams won the candy, but in the true spirit of the tournament the winnings were shared with the players from the defeated Team Zarsky.
The event grows each year and it’s now a major fundraiser for the club. Along with entry fees, the club also sells hats, t-shirts and hoodies. The Mounties attribute the success of the tournament to a rise in attendance at their own regular season home games. There has also been an unexpected benefit from hosting the tournament for the past seven years: The Mounties’ coaching staff discovered that the majority of their current roster has played in past Winter Blasts, so they now use the tournament as an opportunity to evaluate kids at the midget level.