The Kamloops International Bantam Ice Hockey Tournament has a new date and a new look, but it’s much of the same for the host Jardine’s Blazers.
“We’re going out there for the win,” Blazers forward Tyler Ward said Sunday. “We want to win it for our family, fans and friends — win it back for Kamloops.”
KIBIHT, now in its 46th year, will start Wednesday and run through Sunday at McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre, Memorial Arena and Interior Savings Centre. There will be 12 Tier 1 teams — the Blazers included — as well as 16 Tier 2 squads in the tournament.
For its first 45 years, KIBIHT was a spring tournament, held during the Easter long weekend. But as the years went by and the hockey season changed — with zone teams and league finals pushed later into March and April — KIBIHT lost the top teams and some of the lustre that helped make it one of the best bantam tournaments in he world.
When Ted Kowalsky took over as KIBIHT chairman from Willy Saari, who had run the tournament since 2009, he decided that to get the top teams to show up, a change of date was necessary.
The goal is to make KIBIHT a more appealing tournament but, for Blazers head coach Kyle Allan, it’s just another step on the road.
“The guys are just really excited to get out and play,” Allan said. “But we don’t look at it any differently than any other tournament, (it’s) another building block in what we’re trying to do this year.”
The Blazers will open the tournament on Wednesday against the Alaska Aces, the team coming the furthest to attend. That game, scheduled for 3 p.m., at McArthur Island’s Olympic rink, will be followed by a Thursday game — same time, same place — against the Victoria Racquet Club. Kamloops will finish its round-robin on Friday, 12:30 p.m., against the Calgary Northstars at ISC.
Playoffs will run Saturday and Sunday, and the Blazers are looking to become only the third Kamloops team to win the tournament.
“We have a good group of kids, a good mix,” Allan said. “The best part is that they’re good kids and it’s great to work with them.”
The Blazers are undefeated in the Okanagan Mainline Amateur Hockey Association this season, and already have clinched the top spot heading into the playoffs. Their goal goes further than KIBIHT or the other regular-season tournaments.
“We’re looking toward provincials and Western Canadians,” Allan said, before quickly adding, “but those are a long way away.”
The Blazers feel they have a solid, well-rounded roster, from goaltenders Jakob Walter and Curt Doyle on out to strong defencemen Solomon Seibel, Garrett Ewert and Jackson Caller.
Up front, the Blazers are led by Brendan Semchuk, according to Allan, along with a very strong supporting cast.
“We have a solid core of kids here — we’ve been together probably five or six years,” Ward said. “From the net out, we’re strong, all the way through.”
Allan, who coaches along with Russ Hunter and Ed Patterson, had the chance to play at KIBIHT in 1999 — for about 15 minutes.
“I got a concussion about 15 minutes into my first game at KIBIHT,” said Allan, who went on to play for the TRU WolfPack. “Took me out for the rest of the tournament.”
Even with that in mind and even though it’s a mid-season tournament now, KIBIHT is still one the Jardine’s Blazers want to win.
“It’s a big deal, there’s a lot of history with KIBIHT,” Allan said. “KIBIHT is our (only) home tournament, so we just have this.
“There’s some excitement surrounding it, but it’s another opportunity to play for our guys.”
The Player’s Bench Raiders will carry Kamloops’ hopes in the Tier 2 division.
The Raiders will open on Wednesday, 2:30 p.m., against the North Shore Winter Club at McArthur Island’s NHL rink. Kamloops also will play Thursday, 2:30 p.m., against Seattle at ISC, and on Friday, 7:30 a.m., against the Sherwood Park, Alta., Leafs on McArthur Island’s Olympic rink.