Not many organizations involved with running any type of hockey event can point to a successful 22 year long run, let alone one running a Spring Hockey tournament.
But Billy Doherty and the Challenge Cup can.
The tournament has become a fixture among the hockey elite in Western Canada, and a must-do tournament for the top spring hockey organizations from Vancouver, Vancouver Island, the Interior, Edmonton, Calgary and the North West USA.
This year’s tournament gets underway on Friday, May 16 and will run through to Monday on the May Long Weekend in Vancouver. Approximately 200 teams will participate in some 600 games on 28 sheets of ice located in 19 venues scattered throughout Metro Vancouver.
An army of young high school students is hired by organizer Billy Doherty to enter game results, and coordinate the events. Between 150-200 on ice officials are employed.
Doherty estimates between 3,500 and 4,000 players participate, and the games attract upwards of 25,000 fans; adding some $4M to the Vancouver economy over the weekend.
The tournament has come along way since its first year, when it was an 8 team tournament run by Doherty and ex-NHL star Lawrence Sacharuk as an alternative to taking their spring teams to Toronto.
Doherty feels there are several reasons the tournament is so popular.
“Number 1, it’s run by hockey people,” he says, “We care about the players, we love the game, we’re in the game, and we believe what goes around, comes around.”
He acknowledges the Vancouver location and the timing of the event are also big reasons for the success of the event.
And when he talks about timing, he’s not talking only about the Long Weekend, he’s talking about Playoff Time.
“It’s one of the reasons I think spring hockey has become so popular, kids want play when their idols are playing for the Stanley Cup.”
He also attributes the spectacular growth of spring hockey to the fact that kids generally receive professional instruction from high level hockey instructors in spring, which they often don’t receive in winter minor hockey programs. This leads to skill mastery.
“When an athlete masters a skill, he wants to do it again and again. It’s fun.”
Doherty has a long history in hockey, which has now evolved into operating the Banff Hockey Academy, a year round hockey academy that attracts approximately 60 students each year, approximately 80% of them from outside of Canada and United States.
“Every penny we earn from this tournament goes back to hockey; to hiring instructors, and building our program in Banff.”
“We love the game, we love the spirit of the game, and the excitement that comes from competing in a playoff game environment.”