Denfeld News

Dec. 31, 2009
Duluth News Tribune

Holiday hockey tourney ‘a class act’
By Rick Weegman

For years, Kevin Smalley had discussed the need for a high school holiday boys hockey tournament in Duluth.

Now that it’s a reality, the Duluth Denfeld coach couldn’t be more pleased.

“I had aspirations for Duluth to have a Christmas tournament — Duluth schools always seemed to travel somewhere,” Smalley said Wednesday, the final day of the three-day Kiwanis Heritage Holiday Classic. “I thought if I can start something and build on it and help the community and the Heritage Center and give people something to be excited about over the Christmas holiday, that was the direction we wanted to go.”

The event began as a modest four-team tournament a year ago at the newly opened Heritage Sports Center, but doubled in size this year with four Class AA teams and four Class A schools competing in a round-robin format. Junior varsity teams also had their own tournament at the adjacent Pavilion rink.

With several schools on a waiting list, plans are to expand the tournament to 12 or 16 teams next year and change the format to include championship and consolation brackets.

“With this location, with the way these rinks are laid out, I would say they are going to have people knocking on their door to be in this tournament,” said Cloquet-Esko-Carlton coach Dave Esse, whose team tied Buffalo 4-4 on Wednesday to finish 2-0-1 in the tournament.

Denfeld, which shut out Delano 3-0 on Wednesday, also went 2-0-1. The games were the first that the Hunters (6-3-1) played at home this season, following a seven-game road trip to start the schedule.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the athletic situation among Duluth public schools for the 2010-11 season — coaches have yet to be selected for an expected two-school district — Smalley plans on making the tournament an annual tradition.

“That was the key to coming into this — we wanted to start a tradition,” he said. “We’re not trying to steal anyone else’s thunder, we’re just trying to establish our own identity.”

Smalley said he hasn’t heard any complaints about the tournament. Especially favorable was a pre-tournament breakfast that Blackwoods in Proctor donated for approximately 350 participants.

Delano coach Steve Brown said his team traveled to tournaments in Proctor, Ely, Mora, Minn., and Eau Claire, Wis., in previous years but hopes to make this an annual stop for the Tigers.

“The hospitality was outstanding,” he said. “And as far as a high school venue goes, I can’t imagine anything much nicer. We’re planning on coming back.

“We’ve done a lot of traveling, but this is a class act. You have quality teams and well-coached teams, and that’s the kind of tournament we want to be involved in.”

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