High school hockey takes over city

One of Western Canada’s largest high school hockey tournaments is set to begin Thursday, hosting two dozen teams playing games at four local facilities in Brandon until Sunday.

The 27th Annual Victoria Inn High School Hockey Tournament includes 24 teams from Manitoba and Northern Ontario. It is hosted by the Crocus Plains Regional Secondary School. Crocus Plains Plainsmen coach Jeremy Byczkowski says the tournament could be larger, as there is a healthy number of teams on a waiting list wanting to enter.

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“There are only a few tournaments in Canada that are comparable to the one that we run here, which is why it has remained a very popular tournament,” Byczkowski said. “It is only open to high school teams, but is open to any high school team in North America.”

Brandon will be represented in the meet by the Plainsmen and the Vincent Massey High School Vikings. Both teams begin play at 6 p.m. on Thursday with the Vikings facing the Sanford Sabres at Westman Place, while Crocus Plains meets the Transcona Titans in the Kinsmen Arena.

Games will also be played at the Community Sportsplex and the Enns Brothers Arena. The tournament officially opens at 4 p.m. with matches taking place in the Enns and Kinsmen arenas at that time. There is no entry free for spectators wanting to catch the action.

“This is in the hopes of encouraging more people to attend games and create bigger crowds for our guests,” Byczkowski said.

The Fort Frances Muskies are the defending Victoria Inn Tournament champions. However, the cycle of graduating students makes the dynamics of the tournament more competitive, allowing many teams to be in the mix on any given year.

“From year to year, teams change and can surprise you,” said Byczkowski. “For me, everyone showing up has the potential to be the ‘big threat’ of the tournament. Obviously, from our own league, Vincent Massey and Dauphin have proven themselves to be strong, but even they will have their challenges in a tournament like this.”

The Plainsmen coach says his team is starting to find their identity and expects them to play well.

“It’s going to be a very competitive tournament in all three divisions and we have the ability to play in all three,” Byczkowski said.

“If the boys come out strong in the opening period and play to their potential, they have the ability to push any team in our league right now. The key for us is the key in every game; everyone on the bench needs to show up ready to play.”

After a round robin play through Friday and Saturday, the teams will be split into three divisions based on their results. The games in the playoff brackets will take place Saturday and Sunday.

Byczkowski says the Victoria Inn event tends to bring out a higher level of play among the participating teams due to the two-game, round robin set-up.

“Teams know if they want to play in the top divisions they can’t slip up right from the first puck drop,” he said, adding that the experience should carry benefits into Westman High School Hockey League play.

“Playing tightly competitive tournaments is always good to push teams during tight games. Blow out games never benefit anybody, so to play against teams that are your caliber all weekend long, you learn to battle through hard matches.”

The championship games are schedule for 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Sunday. The gold-medal matches in each division will occur at Westman Place.

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