A record 16 teams will compete in the Fire on Ice female hockey tournament this weekend.
In its fifth year, the tournament has grown from eight teams. This year it will feature four teams (including Penticton) in each of the atom, peewee, bantam and midget levels. The atom division has visiting teams from Kamloops, Merritt and Wenatchee, while peewee has Chase, Kelowna and Williams Lake. In bantam, there is Tri Cities, Kelowna and Kamloops, while midget has Merritt, Kelowna and Kamloops.
Shawn Black, director of the female division for Penticton Minor Hockey Association, said they are happy with the growth, especially because PMHA has 519 registered players, 85 of whom are females.
“Girls account for almost 20 per cent of PMHA’s total registration,” he said. “We’re really excited. The quality of play has really improved.”
Black said the importance of the tournament comes in the chance for girls to play against other females.
“There are not a lot of female teams in the valley,” said Black. “They really get excited about that. They get to see how they stand as a program. See other girls’ hockey.”
For the first time the tournament will have an American team in Wenatchee.
“They were really excited when invited to come,” said Black, an assistant coach with the Penticton bantam team. “There are not a lot of female teams for them to play.”
Lloyd Lindsay, head coach of Penticton’s bantam team, wants to see his players put together on the ice what they have worked on in practice. Having seen his players perform against other female teams, he knows what to expect.
“They rise to the occasion against girls,” he said.
Lindsay said the strength of his team starts with the goaltending of Sylvia Barnett. Penticton also possesses skill in the offensive zone.
With the number of teams in the tournament, Black said it’s one of the largest in the Interior as more than 250 players are expected to play.
Another factor contributing to the success of the tournament is the support of local businesses, such as Game Time Sports, Penticton Fabricating, the Lakeside Resort and Inland Kenworth.
Games will take place in the South Okanagan Events Centre, Okanagan Hockey School Training Centre, Memorial Arena, and McLaren Arena. Action begins Friday with Penticton facing Merritt in the atom division at 3 p.m. in the SOEC. On Saturday, in atom, Penticton faces Kamloops at 6:30 a.m. at Memorial Arena. The playoff round begins Sunday at 6:30 a.m. The games for first-place in each level begin at 10 a.m. for peewee in Memorial Arena, 11:15 a.m. for bantam in McLaren Arena and 11:45 a.m. for midget in Memorial Arena.