Bantam hockey showcase set to shine

Matt Recchi watches up to 500 minor hockey games a year.

Matt Recchi watches up to 500 minor hockey games a year.

As director of player personnel for the Kamloops Blazers, which his brother Mark Recchi is part owner of, he oversees the scouting department. With Penticton hosting the International Bantam Prospect Showcase Dec. 27 to 30, he will be glad to watch all the action in one area as it reduces travel. Games are being played at the South Okanagan Events Centre, Memorial Arena, the Okanagan Hockey Academy Community Rink and McLaren Arena.

“A good mixture of players,” said Recchi, who spent three seasons as an amateur scout with the Pittsburgh Penguins and played a role in drafting Jordan Staal, Luca Caputi, Angelo Esposito and former BCHLer Casey Pierro-Zabotel.

The IBPS will feature teams from B.C., Alberta and Anchorage, Alaska, playing at the AAA level. Also playing will be an Okanagan Hockey Academy team and a Penticton minor hockey squad because of the support they gave organizers.

Recchi is expecting Sherwood Park and Camrose to have strong teams and said it should make for good competition.

Mike Elphicke, assistant general manager of the Okanagan Elite Hockey Association which is putting on the event, said the showcase will feature up to 60 of the top-ranked bantam players in Western Canada.

“Expect the quality of the play to be quite good,” said Elphicke, adding the tournament has adopted the format similar to the Kamloops International Bantam Ice Hockey Tournament.

There will be 48 round robin and 14 playoff games and all are free to attend. Each team is guaranteed three round robin games, and two playoff games in a double knockout format. The top eight teams advance to the playoffs with the three division winners going to the championship round. Second and third place teams of each division go head-to-head, with the winner moving on.

“It should be pretty exciting hockey,” said Elphicke.

Two feature games, said Elphicke, will have the OHA against Sherwood Park on Dec. 27 at 6 p.m. at the SOEC and Vernon versus Lethbridge on Dec. 28 at 3:45 p.m. also at the SOEC.

Elphicke said the first feature will have about 19 kids capable of playing in the Western Hockey League, according to scouts.

Richard Riexinger, head coach of the Camrose Vikings, decided to have his team participate after they played in a smaller one last year and enjoyed the area, facilities and restaurants. The Vikings were the first team to sign up for the IBPS.

“We thought, why wouldn’t we come?” said Riexinger. “It’s good hockey and a good place for the world to be. There are some high calibre teams coming from Alberta, B.C. and some from the United States.”

The Vikings play in the Northern Alberta Midget Hockey League and are third in the East White Division with a 10-7-2 record. Fans can expect to see a hard working team with a mix of skill and grit.

Elphicke said the tournament, which is a fundraiser to send a team to Prague next summer to represent Canada, is designed to also provide a family experience. There will be a trade show to take in, a standard raffle table and memorabilia, as well as a dance with local band Uncorked! performing. There will be a banquet for kids and each will get a welcome bag.

Following six months of planning with partner Loren Reagan, Elphicke said he’s excited to see how many people come out. Elphicke confirmed the tournament is already booked for two more years.