Sto:Lo tournament the start of something special?

The Sto:Lo All-Native Hockey Showdown will bring eight top teams to Chilliwack's Prospera Centre in late April.

Eight of Western Canada’s top all-native ice hockey teams will hit the ice at Prospera Centre April 20-22 for the first annual Sto:lo Ice Hawks All-Native Hockey Showdown.

Presented by Triton Environmental, the tournament features three days of full contact round-robin hockey that Soowahlie Chief Otis Jasper describes as a blend of pond hockey and Charlestown Chiefs.

“You’ve got an age range of between 17 and 40, and you’ve got guys who’ve played some level of pro hockey on the same ice as guys who played minor,” Jasper said. “What you get is lots of big hits and lots of skill on display.”

Jasper and Squiala Chief David Jimmie are modelling the new tournament after others they have seen around the province.

Merritt and Vernon have hosted such events, and Prince George ran a hugely successful tournament until a couple years ago.

There are many all-native tournaments in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and all have a positive impact on the communities in which they are held.

“A big thing we hope we’re doing is helping the community of Chilliwack become more familar with the local first nations,” Jasper said. “This isn’t a political issue or a land issue. It’s a sport event that hopefully helps build familiarity and dialogue.”

Jasper also hopes a spirit of cooperation and accomplishment will strengthen the ties between local first nations.

“A lot of young people who attend these events see a positive lifestyle where people are being physically active, and that provides a sense of  team and community pride,” he noted. “And a big thing we’ve seen as we’ve travelled to other tournaments is that the host team has community members come home for the tournament, which makes it a reunion.”

One hundred and 20 players are expected, accompanied by another 200-300 friends and family. The tournament looks to be a tidy economic generator for Chilliwack.

Jasper said the local support has been outstanding.

The Chilliwack Chiefs have thrown their weight behind it, and the accumulated sponsorship dollars will help make the tournament a success.

“We’ve spent the last year identifying the costs and securing sponsorships that will make it affordable for people to attend,” Jasper said. “We can afford good referees and Prospera Centre is a great venue.  Our big vision is to get this to where PG’s tournament was, where you’ve got ex-pros like Gino Odjick and Theo Fleury playing.”

The inaugural tournament will have the eight men’s teams, with one featured women’s game.

In future years, Jasper sees womens, old-timers and youth divisions.

“The big vision is that we want it to be long standing and the premier event in the province,” Jasper said. “It’s been a converstaion/dream for the last three years, and we’ve finally got the pieces together to make it happen.”

Tickets will be available at the door.

Day passes are $5 and weekend passes are $10, with children 12 and under admitted free.

Get more info at www.stoloicehawks.com or email Jasper at otis@stoloicehawks.com.