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Popular Bantam AAA Classic leads to U18 AAA Classic

U18 AAA Classic planned for 2020 as Bantam tournament continues to draw teams and scouts

Jason Friesen

Ask any young developing hockey player – their goal is to be noticed. It’s how you get anywhere in any sport; a scout notices your talent, and hopefully more scouts continue watching you. Get enough attention, and you may just get drafted to the next level.

That’s exactly what the Winnipeg Jets AAA Classic hosted at the Bell MTS Iceplex each November hopes to provide for young hockey players. After three years of the tournament, it is becoming an attractive spot for teams and scouts alike from Western Canada to congregate. With 2020 registration now open, you can REGISTER YOUR TEAM for the 2020 Winnipeg Jets AAA Classic.

The tournament itself is drawing attention, similar to the way the players are, and has been so successful that the Iceplex will be adding a U18 AAA Classic this year on Nov. 5-8, 2020.

“The AAA Classic started with eight teams and has now grown to 16 with a waiting list,” said Dean Court, Business and Amateur Hockey Development & Programming Manager for Jets Hockey Development (JHD), who helps to organize and run the tournament. “Teams from across Western Canada and the Northern United States attend what is now considered the pre-eminent Bantam tournament in Western Canada. The level of competition and play has increased each of the last three years, and with it an increase in WHL scouts.

“Our partnership with Hockey Winnipeg has allowed this type of event to grow and gain a foothold in the local hockey calendar. A U18 tournament will provide another weekend for top players in the province and across Western Canada to compete in a highly competitive event.”

Though competition is important to the Bantam teams that have attended the AAA Classic, it’s the presence of Western Hockey League scouts that make a tournament attractive. So as the tournament has grown and drawn a larger crowd of scouts, it has been able to achieve a greater goal; allowing players to grow and realize their dreams of getting drafted to the WHL.

“The goal of this tournament is to create excitement for players of the Bantam WHL draft class and provide a venue for teams with similar goals to compete against one another early in their season,” said Court. “The Bell MTS Iceplex provides an atmosphere that is unmatched for an event of this stature, providing players, scouts, and fans a best-in-class atmosphere.”

The growth and efforts of the tournament haven’t gone unnoticed. The Vancouver North East Chiefs played in the tournament for the first time in 2019, and their general manager Greg Harding noted the scouts as a big draw for the team to travel all the way from B.C.

“The scouts are certainly a part of the draw, and it perhaps gives the players a chance to be looked at by different scouts than would typically see our games,” noted Harding. “A tournament like this really gets the kids a different look. We are used to playing the same teams all the time in our league. This gets them exposure to

different high-end players, and it gives them a sense of where they need to get to in order to be a high pick in the WHL Bantam draft.”

The competition didn’t disappoint either.

“I think our boys were a little taken aback in the first period of our first game of the tournament,” said Harding. “It was a real eye-opener for them.”

Manitoba teams did particularly well, with the Winnipeg Monarchs taking the gold medal. For their coach, Scott Coates, the tournament win was a thrill. But perhaps he is even more excited about what the AAA Classic has grown to become in just three short years, and what that means for hockey players in Manitoba.

“It’s good for all of the kids in Manitoba to have a tournament they can identify as their own and have other teams from outside of the province come in,” said Coates. “Based on where we are positioned, we haven’t had a lot of tournaments like this in the past. A lot of Winnipeg teams only go to one tournament outside the province each year, so this really helps us find out how we compare to teams across Western Canada and the U.S. It gives us confidence to be able to compete with the teams from B.C and North Dakota.”

Manitoba’s success in the tournament comes as no surprise to Court, who knows as well as anyone what the province does to develop its hockey players. His Jets Hockey Development team trains weekly with many of the Winnipeg AAA teams through the AAA Skills program they provide.

“This program provides the AAA players unmatched professional skills development on a weekly basis throughout the season, setting the player and teams up for long-term success,” noted Court.

With that kind of dedication to improvement from the Manitoba teams, the Iceplex staff know the tournament will continue to grow. Not in the number of teams that attend, but in the quality of play as teams improve over the years and set the bar higher.

Registration is now open for the 2020 Winnipeg Jets AAA Classic – visit BellMTSIceplex.ca/TOURNAMENTS.