The Centennial Sports Park was bustling with life all weekend as it welcomed 36 teams from across Ontario to the annual Harvest Classic hockey tournament.
Parents, players, volunteers and all ran around the Centennial and Meridian Credit Union arenas at all hours of the day to catch a glimpse of the games.
Such a large tournament doesn’t just happen, of course. It really does take a village.
If you stood outside the Centennial Arena office long enough, you might be able to catch a glimpse of the brains behind the entire operation, tournament convener Gino Patterson.
“We have over 287 volunteers this year, between barbecuing, timebox and concessions,” said Patterson. “I myself put in 16 hours Friday, Saturday and Sunday.”
“I should’ve worn better running shoes!” he chuckled.
He no longer has kids playing hockey but is happy to volunteer alongside other parents to keep a sense of community alive in the sport.
Many people share a similar sentiment. Peter Flynn, president of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Minor Hockey Association, said recruitment of volunteers for the tourney has been a long process, but parents are more than willing to help out.
“It’s all year round,” he said.
Hockey dad Jo Zambito is one of those parents happy to offer assistance, helping out with the fundraising barbecue at the arena entrance all weekend.
“We have been here Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We are definitely up to over 700 burgers sold,” exclaimed Zambito. (When he’s not busy at the rink, the NOTL resident is busy as the fire chief in Niagara Falls.)
He said the beautiful weekend weather boosted sales, but the delicious scent of onions and food grilling must have been a big help as well.
Volunteer co-ordinator Carrie Plaskett was also active throughout the tournament, working the concession stand with the aid of other parents and kids.
Running around from corner to corner, Plaskett and others helped sell snacks and drinks to NOTLers and visitors alike.
“The concession stand had been closed since the pandemic and many local parents expressed their desire to see some sort of service coming from the concession stand on a regular basis,” said Plaskett.
The stand was certainly welcomed back warmly, with lineups at the counter all weekend long.
Parents weren’t the only people to volunteer over the weekend, though.
Found laughing and drinking pops were three of the tournament’s timekeepers, high school students and NOTL Wolves themselves, Ethan Dulas, Ben Raso and Max Braun.
The boys happily volunteered their time at the tournament in exchange for community service hours.
“The arena is short on staff and Gino is such a nice guy, he gets us to volunteer and gives us school hours just to help out. It’s nice to do it with the home tournament,” said Dulas.
“It’s fun because you get to watch the game and also interact and take part in it,” added Braun.
Patterson and Flynn are especially thankful for the help of the students since it saves quite a bit of cash on an already-expensive endeavour.
“A lot of them need community hours and we try to support that here. It helps us save some money if they help out too, so it works out great,” said Patterson.
Flynn said costs can build up when taking into account ice rentals, paying referees and buying insurance, so they are happy for any help that is available.
“We had people like Club Roma donate a popcorn machine to use, the town donated a pizza warmer and we had a couple of our customers give us a deal on pizzas, like Sandtrap and Garage Pizza, who are sponsors in our league,” said Patterson.
With all of the kind donations and help from volunteers, any profit made is able to be put back into minor hockey development.
Flynn extended thanks on behalf of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Minor Hockey Association.
“A serious thank you to all the volunteers, people like Carrie Plaskett, she was there the whole weekend, Gino was there the whole weekend,” he said.
“Just a huge shout out to the volunteers that made everything successful and all the teams that came.”