The Kamloops International Bantam Ice Hockey Tournament has always been a hotbed for Western Hockey League scouts - another opportunity to evaluate the talent of prospects planning to enter the WHL bantam draft that season. The tournament may become all the more important now, however, with its new place at the beginning of January.
Lorne Frey, assistant general manager and director of player personnel for the Kelowna Rockets, told The Daily News on Tuesday that he felt the change in date was a wise move on the part of KIBIHT's organizers.
"I think it's an excellent time of year to have (a tournament)," he said. "It's a better time than in late April, because we have so much going on in that time now . . . I think as they progress here, I think this tournament could become really, really good."
KIBIHT is making its first run at a January tournament - it's scheduled to run Jan. 1-5 - rather than playing host to the region's top bantam teams in its traditional Easter time slot. Organizers hoped the new date would bring more teams back to Kamloops and would restore some of the renown the tournament once enjoyed.
With Calgary's Mac's Midget AAA Invitational Tournament wrapping up on New Year's Day and the Burnaby Bantam Christmas Tournament playing its last game on New Year's Eve, Frey said there will be no conflicts with other tournamnets as far as his scouts are concerned and that should be the case for most of the teams in the region.
The Rockets will have two, maybe three, scouts at KIBIHT.
"I think a lot of teams will have that same number, likely," Frey said.
With the tournament now almost four months earlier, Frey said it will play a more prominent role in scouting. He and his staff begin identifying players in October at a tournament in Chilliwack and for many of those players, KIBIHT will now be their first opportunity to see those players in action again.
"Now we can start to see at this time of the year where they're starting to get better and guys have improved," he said. "The competition sort of ramps up a little bit, so you'll get a better idea of how competitive they've become and how much they've improved over the last several months.
"It's a good time to have it, no question."
There will be 28 teams playing in this year's KIBIHT - 12 Tier 1 teams and 16 Tier 2 - and Frey commended KIBIHT's organizers for the level of competition it managed to attract in this, the first year with the new date. The strong contingent of teams should help the tournament regain some of the prestige it once enjoyed, while attracting more teams moving forward.
"They've played against each other before and they're very competitive with each other, so that's going to make for a good tournament," Frey said. "I think it will continue to grow."