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Popular Atom Fiesta hockey tournament is celebrating its 40th anniversary this weekend
To show how long the Osoyoos Atom Fiesta hockey tournament has been around, the great Bobby Orr was the best player in the world and dominating the NHL when the first tourney took place back in 1974.
“It’s hard to believe it has been 40 years,” said Dick Flintoft, one of the original members of the organizing committee for the first tournament held in Osoyoos back in 1974. “In those early days, we got up close to 40 teams and we were getting teams from all over Canada and quite a few from the United States. The Atom Fiesta tournament has been a big part of this community for a long, long time.”
The 40th anniversary South Okanagan Minor Hockey Association Atom Fiesta tournament kicks off Friday afternoon at the Sun Bowl Arena with the official opening ceremonies set for 7 p.m.
The host South Okanagan Junior Coyotes atom team will play its first game immediately following the opening ceremony.
While numerous people involved in Osoyoos minor hockey back in 1974 were involved in getting the tournament off the ground, it was the late Paul Eisenhut who made the decision for this community to host a tournament for atom-aged players and invite teams from inside and outside the province, said Flintoft.
“It started out as a new fundraising to raise some money for minor hockey in Osoyoos,” he said. “We figured a lot of people would be interested in coming to Osoyoos at this time of the year and we usually have great weather and we were right.
“I remember when we were up to 40 teams that me and the other organizers would get to the arena at 6 a.m. and we wouldn’t get out of there until 3 or 3:30 the next morning.”
The tournament became so big for so many years that organizers had to use the Oliver Arena as well as the Sun Bowl Arena, a trend that continues to this day, said Flintoft.
“A guy named Bill Taylor would organize the houseleague tournament out of Oliver and I would run the rep team tournament here in Osoyoos,” he said. “It was a very busy weekend, but so much fun to have that many teams and so many people coming to our communities for a minor hockey tournament.”
Many great players have played in the Osoyoos Atom Fiesta tournament over the past four decades, said Flintoft.
“A lot of guys that ended up in the NHL have played in the Atom Fiesta tournament over the years,” he said. “I couldn’t name them all, but there have been quite a few. Because our tournament has such a good reputation, all of the powerhouse atom teams in cities like Edmonton and Calgary and Vancouver would come here and they had some tremendous players.”
The amount of money and economic development generated in Osoyoos as a direct result of this tournament is remarkable as well, he said.
“This tournament has brought a lot prestige and a lot of money to our community over the years,” he said. “We’ve filled a lot of hotel and motel rooms and a lot of restaurants.”
Brianne Hillson, the manager of the South Okanagan Junior Coyotes, said 14 teams will be competing in this weekend’s tournament, including teams from Quesnel, 100 Mile House, Kimberly, Fernie, Mission, Ridge Meadows, Penticton and Kelowna.
The Junior Coyotes will play following the opening ceremonies Friday as well as Saturday at 11 a.m. and 6:15 p.m. All three games will be played at the Sun Bowl Arena.
The Junior Coyotes have a very good chance of doing well this weekend, she said.
“We just won our playoff tournament for the first time in a few years at this level and we finished in second place during the regular season,” said Hillson. “The kids have had a great year and they really want to do well at the Atom Fiesta tournament on home ice.”
Jim Harrington, the longtime recreation manager for the Town of Osoyoos, has been invited to drop the puck prior to the Junior Coyotes’ first game Friday night.
“So many kids in this town have fond memories of Jim and their time at the Sun Bowl Arena,” she said. “His grandson will be playing in his final Atom Fiesta tournament and we thought it would be great to have Jim come down and drop the puck as part of the opening ceremonies.”
All local hockey fans are invited to take in the action all weekend, said Hillson.