By Tera Camus
It’s likely the only hockey tournament in the world where it’s not about who wins.
It’s more about who scores at the Vince Ryan Memorial Hockey Tournament which opened Thursday, injecting a little life and excitement into the duller-than-watching-paint-dry days of the dying winter.
And if there could be a gold contender at this year’s annual hockey extravaganza for scoring the most points, the Cape Breton Regional Municipality would top the list.
The 21st annual Molson Canadian/Coors Light sponsored event has attracted 141 teams this year with 2,700 players who will play, on a nearly hourly schedule, until Sunday at nine different ice surfaces, allowing the Vince Ryan tourney to claim bragging rights as “one of the largest adult hockey tournaments in the world”.
“The Vince Ryan is like Cape Breton’s Calgary Stampede only without the horses,” said area MP Rodger Cuzner, a long time participant who will be on the sidelines this year due to scheduling conflicts in Ottawa.
“It’s four great days of fun and fellowship and there’s a little bit of hockey played as well,” he told WGO with a laugh.
It’s no secret that women in the area who may not otherwise venture out their doors or show interest in hockey, do so during the Vince Ryan tournament. It could be due to the hundreds of men who step into the area’s small social scene as the end of another Island winter looms. But I’m just guessing.
Visitors help pack the bars, restaurants and many other public venues.
“I think the women look as forward to the Vince Ryan as the men do, for the hockey,” Mr. Cuzner said chuckling. “And economically,” he said more seriously, “it brings a lot to the community but also, emotionally, it does a great deal. After coming out of a long winter, it lifts everyone’s spirits.”
So it is with some chagrin that this female writer isn’t at the BayPlex—the unofficial headquarters—right now, helping to welcome all the fit looking visitors to Cape Breton.
But lookout weekend, because this writer just learned her former newspaper colleague has returned to Nova Scotia for the event, fresh from the Vancouver Olympics.
Kristen Lipscombe, who normally handles public relations for Hockey Canada, is coming to play for the Halifax Hot Flashers.
“Being newly single, I will definitely be on the prowl in Sydney,” she said jokingly.
Ms. Lipscombe grew up playing hockey and says she met many of her closest friends while playing for a team on the ice, so she returns every year to the Vince Ryan because it “…provides a great bonding experience and brings back all of those special hockey memories.”
The action will be organized into eight divisions, according to age or profession, and more than 20 teams this year involve women, including repeat visitors from California—LA Chill.
Long time organizer Ritchie Warren said those women will be at the featured exhibition game Sunday when they suit up against the NHL and American Hockey League Celebrities, 3:30pm at the BayPlex in Glace Bay.
Soon after the game, around 5pm, two former NHLers—Peter Conacher and Ivan “the terrible” Irwin—will be honored along with Bob MacNeil, a hockey star from Europe in his day. Conacher played with the Chicago Black Hawks, New York Rangers and the Toronto Maple Leafs while Irwin’s career included stints with the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers.
Mr. Warren said they wanted to do something special to remember their contributions to hockey while they’re still able.
“When I did this 21 years ago, we started with 12 teams and I never dreamed it would grow this big,” Mr. Warren said, noting this year they had to turn away 30 teams. “We can’t take any more. People who come know it’s a first come, first served basis. I think people keep coming back because it’s the hospitality…and the people here.”
Besides packing ice rinks, most area hotels are filled, and normally quiet restaurants and bars are expected to bulge at the seams day and night as players from across Canada and the United States move through the area.
More than $5 million is expected to be generated in the economy by the tournament, which offers hourly opportunities to see some rather good, fast-paced action while raising money for local kids to attend one of Cape Breton’s post-secondary institutions with $500 scholarships.
The memory of John Vincent Ryan also scores a goal as tribute to his love of sport and his dedication to youth.
From Donkin, the skilled short and stocky puck-handler began his hockey career in the 1940s and by 1951 joined the Glace Bay Junior Miners. He achieved his 200th career goal by the 1962-63 season, which is believed to be the third highest scorer in the Maritime Senior Hockey League.
More than 200 volunteers should also be kept in mind as scoring big too, helping things run smoothly including aspects like scheduling so many teams over so many days, and arranging transportation, food, entertainment, tourism information and socials.
The closure of Smooth Herman’s, the traditional last stop for late night visitors, is expected to impact other clubs, like Daniel’s and the Steel City, which will stay open until 3am—an hour later than usual.
Mr. Warren says two closing dances Saturday night are planned in Glace Bay at the BayPlex and in Sydney at the Bicentennial Arena to take care of the overflow of participants looking to unwind.
“Having Herman’s closed will be a plus for us,” he said.
Local car dealer Mike Degiobbi of Sydney told a local radio station that he’s been playing hockey at the event for many years and joked he hoped to keep his aging heart rate down.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “You bump into a lot of guys you play with or have known for a long time…it’s definitely great, great for the community.”