By MARK HUNTER
Daily News Sports Reporter
(Courtesy Kamloops Daily News) — The Kamloops International Bantam Ice Hockey Tournament is evolving in hopes of staying alive.
The tournament, which has run around Easter weekend every year since 1969, will be changing its dates in 2014. The 46th edition of the tournament, one of Kamloops’ oldest and most prestigious, will run Jan. 1-5.
The tournament originally was scheduled for April 9-13.
“We’ve had to move it because (the Easter date) conflicted with too many playoffs in different leagues and other provinces,” said KIBIHT chairman Ted Kowalsky, who took over from Willy Saari after the 2013 event. “That’s why we lost some of the teams we’ve had in other years.”
KIBIHT has fallen on hard times over the past six or seven years, with top Alberta and Saskatchewan teams unable to commit due to provincial playoffs. The tournament had a change in leadership in 2008, and went to two tiers – Tier 1 and Tier 2, essentially AAA and AA – in 2011.
Once considered one of the top bantam hockey tournaments in the world, KIBIHT has struggled to get the best teams in Western Canada and the U.S., mainly because of its date. Organizers want the tournament to regain some of its lustre, making the move necessary, Kowalsky said.
“This had nothing to do with anything financial,” he said. “You can have a hockey tournament, but unless it’s a first-rate hockey tournament, it’s just a hockey tournament.
“KIBIHT has always been a first-rate hockey tournament.”
The 2013 KIBIHT was a 28-team affair, with only eight teams in the Tier 1 division. The 2014 tournament is hoping to get 12 teams in each division, and Kowalsky said organizers already have been contacting programs.
But when a lot of people think KIBIHT in Kamloops, they think Easter.
“You can’t please everybody,” Kowalsky said. “People saying that it’s always been on that weekend or it’s always been run a certain way – well, you have to change with the times. If you don’t change, you die.
“We’re going to change and go with the type of teams we want to have.”
The 2014 tournament is to run from a Wednesday to a Sunday, all before school is back from its Christmas vacation. KIBIHT organizers didn’t just pick a date out of a hat; they had to make sure everything worked with the Kamloops Minor Hockey Association, the city, and all of the out-of-towners.
“Any response that we’ve had has been great,” Kowalsky said. “None of the teams are saying, ‘Oh, that sucks.’ “