Quebec hosts hockey’s up-and-coming

Photo: Jill Gagnon

From left, Mateo Pietroniro, Ethan Roswell, Asst. Coach Mike Roswell, Phillip Knies and Landon Quinney.

For over 50 years, Quebec City has been the host of the most important minor hockey tournament in the world, The Quebec International Pee Wee Hockey Tournament. The competition, which was held at the Pepsi Coliseum, ended on February 20 and featured more than 2,600 of hockey’s brightest young stars from 16 countries. Crowds of more than 250,000 people gathered around the ice during the 11-day event, providing proof that Quebec is full of hockey fans just waiting for NHL access.

In a controversial move this year, body checking was permitted for the first time in the event’s history. A new division called the AA Elites represented the only teams in the tournament with this type of contact. Although Quebec remains the only province in Canada with a ban on body checking at the Pee Wee level, there was pressure to soften that stance for the tournament. This issue continues to be debated. Some believe that 12-year-old players should be allowed to focus on putting the puck in the net without the distraction of physical altercations on the ice.  However, those who oppose the ban feel strongly that learning this type of defense on the ice is just part of the game.

One of Quebec’s own hockey stars, Manon Rhéaume, was personally linked to this year’s tourney, as her son, Dylan St-Cyr played with the Detroit Honeybaked team. Rhéaume, who was born in Lac Beauport, is the first and only woman to ever have played in an NHL exhibition game. The former goaltender is also an Olympic silver medallist.

The Pee Wee Tournament’s longevity has paved the way for Quebec City to remain a town linked to hockey, despite the absence of a National Hockey League team. The 11- and 12-year-old players have all spent the majority of their young lives dreaming of a future in the NHL, and could probably name dozens of players who have taken the ice in Quebec on their way to stardom, including Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby. 

One of the most unique aspects of the event is the fact that families in Quebec City host the majority of the players. Each host family looks after the needs of a few players, offering not only lodging, but also providing transportation, meals, and keeping up with the laundry requirements of a young athlete.

Ethan Roswell, Mateo Pietroniro, Phillip Knies and Landon Quinney play for Lemieux Academy in Phoenix, Arizona. The boys were happy to return to Quebec for a second time, and they stayed with the same host families as last season.  Although they were in town to win, each one of them admitted that there were other things they knew to look forward to, including poutine and chocolate fondue!  “The food here is awesome,” said Knies, adding that he plans on taking some cheese home with him. Assistant Coach Mike Roswell agreed that the cultural exchange opportunities here really set this experience apart from other hockey trips for his team.

The tournament ended with the Quebec Remparts (Rive-Nord Gouverneurs) taking home the trophy in the AA category after edging out the Hershey Jr. Bears from Pennsylvania.  The Carolina Jr. Hurricanes won the International B division, while the Thetford A’s earned the title in the International C division.  The Detroit Red Wings and the New York Rangers battled for the top prize in the Elite division, but New York went home with the trophy.