Members of the Yellowknife Wolfpack and California Wave gather for a unique team picture following the D Event final at the 48th annual Vernon Winter Carnival Coca Cola Classic Pee Wee Hockey Tournament at Kal Tire Place North. (Roger Knox/Morning Star)

Vernon tournament creates cross-border friendships

Red tape forces California and Yellowknife teams to swap players at Vernon pee wee hockey event

Brayden Hickling had no problem being part of an impromptu North American Free Trade Agreement Sunday morning in Vernon.

Hickling, a 12-year-old forward with the California Wave pee wee hockey team, in the North Okanagan for the 48th annual Vernon Winter Carnival Coca Cola Classic Pee Wee Hockey tournament, was dealt by the Wave, along with two teammates, including a goalie, to Canada’s Yellowknife Wolfpack right before the D Event battle for the Mickey Ogasawara Trophy.


A scheduling snafu, as explained by Wave coach Trevor Wada.

“Back home, the California Amateur Hockey Association basically forced us to play in a game that was not scheduled when we were accepted for the Vernon tournament,” said Wada. “We weren’t allowed to forfeit the game, so we had to send seven kids and a goalie back and leave seven here. We weren’t able to reschedule the game.”

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The Wave had played four games before their players (and their families) had to return to California, leaving them with just eight players for the D final.

The Wolfpack, who lost last year’s A Event Amy Myles Trophy final to the host Watkin Motors Mustangs, said, ‘No problem. We’ll play a fun game.’

Hence the trading of players. There was the white-jerseyed Wolfpack, with the Wave additions, wearing Yellowknife jerseys but California team socks, playing the dark-jerseyed Wave, with Yellowknife additions wearing their road jerseys.

“It was awesome to meet all of those (Yellowknife) kids. They’re really nice,” said a beaming Hickling, from Anaheim, Cal., post-shower. “They were all welcoming. It was amazing.”

And speaking of amazing, that was the exact word Hickling’s Wave teammate Matt Duggan used to describe a team outing while in Vernon: a little shinny on the outdoor rink at the Vernon Recreation Centre. Something that’s pretty much impossible to do in Southern California.

“That was pretty awesome. It was snowing, cold, just amazing,” said Duggan, who’s been to Canada once before with his dad to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. The closest thing the Wave have to outdoor shinny is a roller hockey rink by the beach.

“I didn’t want to come off (at the outdoor rink). We were there for almost three hours,” added Hickling, who has been to the Okanagan before, taking part in the Okanagan Hockey School in Penticton in the summer. “My face was freakin’ frozen. I couldn’t feel my face. But it was so awesome.”

(California Wave, from near Orange County, Cal., skate at Vernon’s Centennial Outdoor Rink – video courtesy of Kristina Duggan)

So, in what turned out to be the fun D Event final Sunday at Kal Tire Place North Arena, the newly named California Moosemeat defeated the Yellowknife Surfers 7-5.

There were smiles, hugs and handshakes everywhere as both teams gathered for a group picture.

The Wolfpack, really, are the tournament’s (and possibly pee wee hockey) goodwill ambassadors. A year ago at the Classic, they became fast friends with another California visiting team, the San Diego Saints.

RELATED: San Diego loving Vernon hockey

“We developed a really good friendship with the team last year and, in the spirit of friendship and hockey, we invited them up to Yellowknife last March,” said Wolfpack team manager Sarah Dennis.

“We did a whole bunch of different activities with them from dog sledding to ice fishing, snowmobiling, a night of traditional games, took them out to see the Aurora Village (viewing the Northern Lights), then we had some exhibition games, about four of them, between Yellowknife and San Diego. At the last game we mixed up the teams similar to what happened here today.”

For Wada, attending his second Coca Cola Classic, Sunday’s experience just adds to why the Vernon tournament is one of his favourites.

“It’s one of the greatest tournaments I’ve ever been to, playing, coaching, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s such a well-run tournament. The committee’s great. The town is great. I want to come back for a vacation here in the summer.”

The Wolfpack, at the conclusion of the tournament, were awarded the Dan Oxnard Memorial Trophy as the tournament’s most sportsmanlike team.

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