RED DEER'S ICONIC OUTDOOR RINK TOURNAMENT
"I was driving on the highway and just started thinking of some ideas and my thoughts turned to the NHL Winter Classic. I just said ‘let’s do that here in town.’ ”
The outdoor rink is an important tradition of Canadian winters and an iconic rite of passage for a lot of up and coming athletes too! Those Saturday morning pickup games on the ODR can create memories that last a lifetime for many Canadians both young and old. The Tommy Gun's Outdoor Winter Classic has taken this concept to a whole new level.
How it all began...
“I was driving on the highway and just started thinking of some ideas of what to do in the community and my thoughts turned to the NHL Winter Classic. I just said ‘let’s do that here in Red Deer,’” said Al Sim, whose Tommy Gun’s Outdoor Winter Classic has gone through six incredibly successful tournaments.
The outdoor Midget B hockey tournament was started with the intent to give some hockey players a chance to finish their minor hockey careers on a high note. These kids are playing at Midget B level and typically don’t get all the perks or accolades that Midget AAs or AAAs get. This tournament concept gave me an opportunity to create a cool environment and give these kids something that they’ll talk about for the rest of their lives.”
Each year the tournament runs from Friday through Sunday at the Bower Community Rinks. It features eight teams, four from Red Deer and four from around the province. One of the high points of the tournament is that each team is decked out in old style pro jerseys.
“For the kids that come, we tell them to leave their minor hockey jerseys and socks at home and each of these sets of uniforms are sponsored. They put the names on the back of the jerseys and then the kids get to keep them at the end of the tournament,” Sim said of the retro-style that the event sports. Every year we keep the theme under wraps, so when the kids open their dressing room they are just in awe at the cool surprise.“It’s funny because every dressing room door that gets opened, every kid and every manager thinks they’ve got the best jersey for the tournament.”
In addition to the Midget hockey, the festival-like event also features some fun Novice level games, that come in the form of the 1987 Canada Cup. These kids when they come play, they’re the Novice Rec division of Red Deer Minor Hockey. Each team gets a 45 minute game and one team represents Canada, the other team represents Russia and they have the Summit Series,” Sim said.
The lengths that Sim and the rest of the organizing team go to in order to make the experience as authentic as possible are really impressive. For example, anthem singer Brett LaBrosse will only sing the national anthems of the teams that are playing. “If it’s a U.S. team playing a Canadian team he’ll do both and if it’s just the U.S. playing then that only gets sung. Flags are flying and it’s awesome,” Sim said, adding LaBrosse has even learned the Russian anthem for the Summit Series games. It’s a pretty special event and, according to Sim, it has always been really well received by the teams that play in it. “It’s our version of the NHL to these kids and once their bus or their vehicle rolls in they see that it’s a bonafide NHL experience. It’s cool.” Sim wants to thank the tournament’s sponsors and volunteers for all of their support in putting together the unique event. “It’s almost like a city within a city. It’s this festival that we created.”