Quebec City’s Pee-Wee hockey tournament is huge event

Category Seeing the sights, Staying active Date 05/03/2020

Written byTaylor Ireland

Of all the amazing events Quebec City hosts each year, I believe nothing is quite as special on so many levels as the International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament. 

There really isn’t anything quite like it anywhere else in the world. And what makes it so extraordinary is how it brings kids together from no less than 20 countries to share a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Of course, the motivation behind it all is hockey and the joy and team spirit that playing the game brings. 

The 61st edition of the tournament just wrapped up and organizers are saying it was the best one yet. The attendance for the week-long event was just over 220,000, just shy of the record of 236,279 set in 2016, the first year the tournament was held in the brand new Videotron Centre. 

The fact that Pee-Wee level teams (11 and 12 years old) get to play at least one game in a spectacular National Hockey League calibre arena, with thousands of fans in the stands, is an incomparable thrill and unique experience.

This year’s tournament was all the more special because the popular Rogers Hometown Hockey series broadcast from the city and showcased not only the incredible tournament but many of the attractions of the city itself. 

For the record, the Quebec Pee-Wee tournament is indeed the biggest and most prestigious minor hockey competition on the planet. Each year 120 teams are accepted for the event, and almost double that number are turned down. All told, 2,200 players participate, along with coaches and support staff. In many cases, parents come along for the exciting experience, and often turn the trip into a exploration of Quebec and elsewhere in Canada.

Many players are billeted with host families in the city, and have the opportunity to share daily life and culture in a comfortable setting. In addition to the 450 billet families, some 400 dedicated volunteers make a tournament of this size run smoothly and in a friendly way.

It’s no exaggeration to say teams come from the four corners of the planet. This year, two new countries joined the “United Nations” of hockey the tournament creates: South Korea and Croatia. Other countries, not particularly noted for their hockey culture, send teams, including Australia, Japan, Mexico, England, and a few years ago, South Africa. Organizers can boast the tournament has had teams from all five continents: Asia, America, Europe, Australia and Africa.

Teams from the former Soviet Bloc in Europe became regular visitors to the tournament in the early 1980s, perhaps a harbinger on Canadian ice of a coming thaw in the Cold War. 

The tournament has also been a bit of a beacon for women’s hockey, beginning with legendary goalie Manon Rheaume, breaking the ice, so to speak, and leading her Quebec team to victory in 1984. Eighteen years later, in 2002, after her exploits in junior and pro hockey, Rheaume would coach the first all-girl team in the tournament. In 2017, an all-girl team won the title in its category. 

Of course, what really makes the Quebec tournament special is its rich history of attracting future hockey stars. The list is a very long one, but just a few luminaries would be: Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull, Brad Park, Eric Lindros, Guy Lafleur, Marcel Dionne, Mark Messier, Mario Lemieux, Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews. Many of these hockey legends return to the tournament as coaches or as celebrities inspiring new generations of players.

Naturally, an event of the magnitude of the Pee-Wee tournament is also a major economic engine for the city and surrounding communities where associate tournaments take place. It’s estimated the financial spin-off from the pee-wee competition is a rather giant $10 million. Hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, sports stores, taxis, tourist attractions and innumerable other businesses reap the benefits of thousands of kids gathered to play hockey. Combined with the final weekend of the popular Quebec winter carnival, all this activity really heats up the economy at the coldest time of the year.

The name Pee-Wee suggests something small. The world’s biggest and best minor hockey tournament is anything but. It’s a huge event that leaves all who take part, either as spectator or player, with big memories and for some, bigger dreams.