NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke stopped by to motivate the young players and tell them, among other things, to stay in school.
“(Bettman) was saying how much he admires the kids, their enthusiasm, and their passion for the game,” said Ottawa resident David Campbell said, whose 11-year-old son, Adam, was competing in the peewee division.
The Junior Skills Competition is a miniature version of the All-Star Competition. The kids, aged 7-12, compete for the title of national hockey all-star and bragging rights. But the most exciting prize is skating on the ice at the Scotiabank Centre Saturday night in front of a national audience during the much-anticipated All-Star Skills Competition.
Six of the winners, one girl and one boy from each division of peewee, novice, and atom, will earn all the above.
Adam, in sweater No. 13, wielded a neon green hockey stick as he sped down the ice in one of four skills tests trying to earn the fastest skater spot. This Ottawa South End Spitfire’s player had a time of 11 minutes, 8 seconds; it placed him right in the middle of the pack.
Other skills being tested Saturday were shooting accuracy, puck control, and passing accuracy.
Saturday’s participants were whittled down from 2,500 kids Canada-wide who competed in regional competitions last year. The event was organized by Canadian Tire, which hosted the qualifying regional competitions.
Holly Howard was among the hundreds of family members clinging to the icy railing above the Rideau Canal, across the street from the Ottawa Convention Centre. She brought more than a dozen family members from Spencerville to watch her daughter, Jay-Lynne Burnie, try to snag the top spot.
“It’s been great so far,” Holly said. “It’s a great opportunity for the kids here.”
The participants and parents didn’t know the location of the competition until late Friday night because the canal was in such bad shape after Friday’s rain and freezing rain. Workers laboured all night to prepare the 500-metre stretch of ice for the 40 players. The canal remains closed to the public, however.
Jay-Lynne, the only one on the ice with a bright pink hockey stick, had been feeling the pressure.
“I think it hit her this morning,” her mother said. “Then she got really nervous.”
But any anxiety slid away as Jay-Lynne chatted with her fellow players. Probably the best part of the competition today is the chance to just be a kid in a favourite sport.
Young players from all across Canada, Vancouver to Halifax, were chatting, skating, and playfully roughhousing on the canal for hours.
“No matter what happens, she’s going to walk away with a smile on her face.”