Kitimat strike forces provincial hockey tournament venue change

The Kitimat Peewee Tier 3 BC Hockey Championship will now take place at the Terrace Sportsplex

The marquee at the Terrace Sportsplex was changed in short order to announce that the Peewee provincial tournament would be relocated to Terrace.

Hundreds of provincial Peewee hockey players and their families will be descending on Terrace this weekend, part of the fallout from the Kitimat District municipal workers’ strike.

The Kitimat Peewee Tier 3 BC Hockey Championship will now take place at the Terrace Sportsplex beginning March 15 – 18 with the organizing committee making the official announcement Tuesday last week.

“You can’t imagine,” said organizing committee chairman Tony Velho of how it felt to learn that the ongoing strike would mean that the four-day tournament the committee had been planning since November couldn’t take place at the Tamitik Arena.

“We’ve got a real dedicated group helping out, the committee, and sure it was a bit of a disappointment to them – the reason everyone did it was because, ‘hey, I’m a Kitimat person and I want to showcase our town and what we have, we’ve got a nice rink,’” he said.

Kitimat Mayor Phil Germuth said the city is “obviously disappointed that we’re not able to host this event as a result of a labour dispute, it would have been a great event for the community.

“However, the situation is what it is,” he said, lamenting the impact losing the tournament will have on Kitimat’s economy but also praising the Kitimat organizing committee for being prepared.

“Obviously Kitimat people were prepared for this and it’s nice to see Terrace people come through and make it a reality,” he said.

Velho explained that “there’s been a lot of planning up to this point. And all of the planning is based on it being in Kitimat,” he said, noting there were plans for a coach meeting room and a player’s lounge room at the rink and a handful of teams were booked at Kitimat hotels. Some of those teams have now re-booked hotels in Terrace, he said, and the only event that will still take place in Kitimat is the banquet.

The organizing committee tried to work with city officials and the union to get the ice back on the rink in Kitimat, but realizing it wasn’t possible, Velho reached out to Terrace.

And his phone has been ringing off the hook with offers to help pull off the tournament ever since.

“Oh my son’s 14 years old, I’m not sure what he can do but he’s willing to help. One lady – I don’t know if her husband knows, but her husband’s volunteering – said I can do it, my husband can, and my 11-year-old is a mature 11-year-old, like stuff like that, it’s crazy,” he said, adding the scouts offered to help with 50/50 and he received a call from St. John’s ambulance to do first aid.

He said the Sunday night opening ceremonies, with speeches by the BC Hockey president as well as Germuth might be a bit “weird” now that the venue has changed.

“You can’t really say it’s a Kitimat tournament because it’s in Terrace,” he said with a laugh. “It’s more of a regional thing now I guess.”

But he’s “just glad we can still make it happen. Terrace has helped us like crazy. It’s not like Kitimat is in a flood situation where we need housing, but people coming together like that… it’s been really supportive,” he continued.

That sentiment is underscored by the city of Terrace’s leisure services director Carmen Didier.

“We wanted to do whatever we could to make sure the championships stayed in the northwest and were workable for the Kitimat provincial working committee,” she said.

That includes keeping the Hidber ice in one week longer than planned and moving activities from the main arena to the Hidber ice.

“The regular ice user groups have been accommodating and have offered support where they can,” she said, adding local businesses are contributing to the team packages and the city is offering free swimming passes to the provincial teams.

“We all recognize that high level competitions in the northwest helps to build better local sports programs in many ways,” said Didier.

“Kitimat is a good neighbour and we support them. I am certain you will see many Terrace folks in the bleachers cheering on the Kitimat team throughout the competition,” she added.