Saturday April 19, 2014

Full speed ahead for first attempt at January KIBIHT

The 45th edition of the Kamloops International Bantam Ice Hockey Tournament will be the first to take place in January (1-5), after 44 years on Easter weekend.

Thus far, tournament chairman Ted Kowalsky says the response to the change has been "excellent."

"This date will really do something for us," he said Tuesday. "We have to change with the times to get the top teams."

Kowalsky said organizers moved the tournament in order to avoid conflicts with league playoff dates. In order to get the best teams - generally the ones who are still in the playoffs by Easter - to start coming back to KIBIHT, it was decided that New Year's Day was a better fit for the opening puck drop. He said the tournament will also act as a primer for teams heading into the second half of the season, giving them stiff competition to get ready for the stretch run.

Kowalsky said the tentative tournament slate is full right now, with teams from Airdrie, Alaska, Cloverdale, Juan de Fuca, Kelowna, Langley, Penticton's Okanagan Hockey Academy, Kelowna's Pursuit of Excellence, Victoria and Vancouver joining the host Jardine's Blazers in the 12-team Tier 1 division.

The Tier 2 schedule features 16 teams, including the host Player's Bench Raiders. Also in the draw are Kelowna, Mission, North Delta, the North Shore Winter Club, OHA, Penticton, POE, Prince George, Salmon Arm, Seattle, Sherwood Park, Spokane, the Vancouver T-Birds, Vernon and Williams Lake.

Games will be played at McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre, Interior Savings Centre and Memorial Arena.

This is Kowalsky's first year at the helm of the tournament's organizing committee and it will be his job to trying to revive the tournament, which was once of international renown. He took over from Willy Saari, who ran the tournament for five years before stepping down last spring.

This year there are 28 teams attending, but next year the goal is to increase the size of the Tier 1 side. Kowalsky is also looking at bringing in teams from Hungary and Italy.

He's working to raise the profile of the tournament, too, bringing in former Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Walter to be an emcee during a part of the event. Walter also spent part of his NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals, and played parts of four seasons with the junior Kamloops Chiefs.

Kowalsky doesn't have any children involved in hockey at the bantam level - though he did joke that he has grandchildren playing minor hockey - and instead is planning KIBIHT for the good of the game and the tournament.

"I just did it because I'm retired and I wanted to get involved," he said.

The tournament's opening ceremony will take place at 5:30 p.m., Jan. 1, with both of Kamloops' squads hitting the ice afterwards to open the Tier 1 and 2 events.

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