For a select few and fortunate Pee Wee teams from around the globe, February marks a signature event on the hockey calendar and, once again, the Los Angeles Jr. Kings will be represented.
Now in its 59th year, the fabled Quebec International Pee Wee Tournament will welcome the Jr. Kings’ 2005 Major AAA squad for what expects to be a memorable 10 days-plus for the participating players and their families, both on and off the ice.
Sure, there’s the hockey, but what makes the worldwide tournament, which this year will run from Feb. 7-18, so unique is everything the teams experience away from the rink - from sightseeing to pin-trading to dogsledding to snow tubing to settling in with their French-Canadian billet families, with whom all of the players will reside during their stay.
Nick Vachon gets the hype. The head coach of the Jr. Kings’ 05 Major AAA team (he also serves as the club’s general manager of hockey operations), Vachon played in the tournament twice as a member of the Culver City-based Marina Cities Sharks under coach Russ Wyluda. He’s also coached three times in Quebec.
“It’s my favorite tournament of all time, and I’ll never forget how much fun I had,” said Vachon, who’s assisted behind the Jr. Kings bench by Darren Emery and Chase Souto (his father, Hall of Fame goaltender Rogie Vachon, will serve as a guest coach for part of the tournament). “There’s so much buzz around the city, and as a 12-year-old it’s pretty cool to play in front of such big crowds against teams from all over the world.”
And aside from all of the extracurriculars the team is sure to enjoy off the ice, Vachon is confident his charges are ready for the task at hand on it.
“We’ve proven ourselves at a few top tournaments already this season and that’s only going to help us in Quebec,” said Vachon, whose team will compete in the AAA division. “Every one of our boys appreciates the opportunity they have in front of them and you can tell they plan to make the most of it.”
In addition to the official tournament games - at least one of which will be played at the newly minted Centre Videotron, which opened in 2015 and seats over 18,000 for hockey - the teams will play a handful of exhibitions and surely fit in some pond hockey, too.
But with the eager anticipation leading up to the tournament comes plenty of planning and preparation. Just ask the team’s co-manager, Rowena Ong, and its fundraising chairperson, Chi-Chi Tse.
Both say that while they’re nothing but excited for their team to take on Quebec, budgeting, organizing team activities and relentless fundraising efforts have been nonstop since last summer.
“It’s definitely been a unique season having to plan for Quebec, and all of our families have gone above and beyond helping pull everything together,” said Ong, who manages the team along with Jeff Fields. “We have a great group of families and they’ve all pitched in to help pull everything together.”
“It’s been a lot of work from a fundraising standpoint, but we’ve received so much support from not only our families but the entire Jr. Kings community and beyond,” added Tse. “Our kids are really looking forward to this experience and we can’t say enough about everyone who’s helped us along the way.”
As for the players, they can’t wait to sink their teeth into what promises to be an adventure of a lifetime.
“The thought of playing in front of thousands of people in a hockey city I’ve never been to is a dream come true,” said forward Brenden Fields. “I’m also excited to have an opportunity to live with a Canadian billet family, play pond hockey and represent the Jr. Kings in an international tournament.”
“It’ll be neat playing teams from around the world and I’m also looking forward to meeting my billet family,” added forward Dylan Cornforth. “I’m excited to get out there, and I know all of my teammates are, too.”
Other members of the team include: forwards Hunter Anderson, Pavel Baranchik, James Edwards, Cullen Emery, David Mnatsakanyan, Duncan Shin and Logan Yovetich; defensemen Rogiero Cacciarelli, Lenny Greenberg, Nigel Loh, Declan Stewart, Zephyr Tangri and Christian Theberge; and goaltenders Micah Kawai and Calvin Vachon.
“Our entire group - from our players to our families to our coaching staff - has worked extremely hard to prepare for this experience, on and off the ice,” said Nick Vachon. “It’s been a true team effort and I think I speak for all of us when I say we can’t wait to get out there and make some great memories.”