On paper, the Valley West Hawks have a great draw for the Mac’s Midget AAA Hockey Tournament next week in Calgary.
But on the ice, head coach Jessie Leung is expecting four very close games in the round robin portion of the annual tournament which runs Saturday to Friday.
“You can look at the standings of the other leagues, and say we got a good draw because there are no top three teams in our group,” he said. “But there are no bad teams in this tournament.”
The Mac’s Tournament, played since 1978 in Calgary, attracts the best teams from the four Midget AAA leagues in each of the four Western provinces, as well as elite teams from other parts of North America as well as Europe.
Teams can’t just enter the tournament and expect to play. They apply, and hope the host committee accepts them as one of the best applicants.
Valley West is currently in first place in the BC Hockey Major Midget League with an 18-5-1 record, their best-ever showing at the midway point of the season.
“This is the best team we’ve ever taken to Calgary,” said Leung. “We have confidence in our goaltending, and we have lots of firepower. Our coaching staff has been there before, as have some of our players.
The Hawks boast the BC league’s top goal scorer in Ben Evanish of White Rock, who has 26 in 22 games played. With 40 points, Evanish is fourth in league scoring, three points up on teammate Luka Burzan in fifth place.
“We’ll just play to our standard and see where it takes us,” said Leung.
In addition to teams from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, this year’s tournament will include the Belarus U17 national team, the U18 team of Austria, the California Wave and the Ontario Avalanche.
The 25 teams are placed in five groups of five for the round robin. Only eight advance to the playoffs.
“It’s a tough tournament to win,” said Leung. “Only the top teams in each group and three wild-cards get in the playoff. So we’ll know pretty much after two games if we’re still in it.”
The Hawks find themselves in a group with Belarus, as well as the Prince Albert Mintos, Sherwood Park J. Ennis Kings and the Calgary Northstars.
They will start the tournament Sunday (Dec. 27) against the Calgary Northstars, a team which has gone 11-8-3 (win-loss-tie) and is fifth in the eight-team Chrysler (South) Division of the Alberta Midget AAA League.
“We play the Northstars in what is their home rink,” said Leung. “So that first game will be tough. Then we get Belarus the next day (Monday), and that will be a tough game as well.”
Valley West will face the Prince Albert Mintos on Tuesday. Prince Albert is currently in fourth place in the 12-team Sasktchewan Midget AAA Hockey League with a 17-8-2 (win-loss-overtime loss) record. Last year, Valley West edged the Mintos 3-2.
Their final round robin game against Sherwood Park is Wednesday. The Kings are 10-9-4 in the Alberta league’s Dodge (North) Division.