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May. 20, 2022 | Friday
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NOTL March break hockey tournament a sign of life returning to normal
The minor hockey tournament in NOTL this past weekend saw the arena filled with cheering fans and parents, a refreshing site after two years of pandemic precautions. (Richard Harley)

A minor hockey tournament took over the Virgil arenas Friday to Monday, as 42 teams faced off for the title of champion in various age groups.

It was a sign of life coming back to the community, with the arena filled with parents and children.

Even some small-item shops were set up, and there was a barbecue.

For NOTL father Chris Doyle, it was essential to be back out on the ice with kids being able to have fun and look forward to something.

“It’s fantastic to be out with everybody and kids need it,” he said while his son Cian played on Saturday.

Chris also volunteered with the tuck shop and barbecue set up for the weekend.

He said Cian was “completely excited, ready for a tournament and good to be out with all his friends and ready to go.”

His daughter also plays hockey but wasn’t in the weekend tournament.

NOTL parents Kim and Scott Gauld were also watching their 10-year-old son Eric play on Saturday, and echoed similar sentiments.

“It’s long overdue and we’re happy to be out,” Kim said.

She said her son was “pretty excited” to be in a tournament with people around and that it’s bringing the “energy” back to the kids and the game.

“He likes being out with his friends and this has been good after a couple of years of not doing so much. It’s really nice for them to be able to come out and spend time with the kids from other schools and all that,” Kim said.

It’s her son’s first year in hockey and she said it’s nice to have fewer restrictions on parents entering the dressing rooms, etc.

“You can see all their friends are here cheering them on, which is nice,” she said.

“We’re pretty new to the sport, but we’re loving being out and we’re loving the energy in town.”

Scott also felt the same.

“It’s healthy for them, it’s good for them. They need socializing, they need to be out with their friends — that’s what kids do. It’s essential.”

Behind the scenes, Gino Patterson, who helps keep the tournament together and has been volunteering with NOTL hockey for 11 years, was helping to keep track of scores, arrange trophies and answer questions from parents and coaches.

“It’s just so nice to be playing again. It’s incredible. Like it’s such a good feeling just for the kids,” he said.

He said when COVID first hit, it meant the March break tournament in 2020 had to be cancelled the night before it was to begin.

“I had the trophys set up, all the fridges full, the barbecue set up, everything was ready to go and I think I got the call probably at around seven o’clock at night that the time the government was shutting everything down,” he said.

The March tournament is only the second to have taken place since March 2020. NOTL held another one in November, before things got locked down again.

“A lot of people don’t know how important it was for us like to have the November and March tournament this year.”

His son Jaden missed his last year of midget hockey due to the pandemic. So it hits close to home to see kids back on the ice.

For Patterson it’s no easy feat managing the logistics of 42 teams playing in a tournament, but once all the labour is done, it’s worth it.

“You’ve got to put in a lot of work to get to this point and it’s a little stressful, but when you actually get to the day and you get to meet everybody and talk to everybody and have fun, then you sit back and you go, 'This is why I do it.' ”

He also sang the praises of the many other volunteers and coaches who help bring the tournament together.

“Niagara-on-the-Lake honestly, I can’t give enough thanks to the community around here. Like we got Jo Zambito out there — his kids aren’t even in this tournament and he’s up there doing seven hours of barbecue help. You know, he’s a fire chief (in Niagara Falls). He doesn’t need to be here. That’s the way our community is, everybody signs up and helps out. Like it’s a wicked community."