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Photo by Laura Lennie

Photo by Laura Lennie

From left, members of the Stoney Creek Midget AA Sabres Amanda Butterfield, Kayla Vespa, Natasha Costello and Rachel Marmen talk hockey with Olympic gold medallist Laura Fortino during the Esso Cup kickoff event on Saturday at Eastgate Square.

She shoots, she scores

Countdown is on for 2014 Esso Cup

By Mike Pearson, News staff

When Hockey Canada named Gateway Ice Centre the host facility for the 2014 Esso Cup, the unfinished building lacked walls, a roof and of course, an ice surface.

It was May of 2012 and the Stoney Creek Girls Hockey Association had just won its bid to host the national female midget hockey championship at Gateway Ice Centre.

Now, after nearly two years, the preparations are almost complete.

“Hockey Canada took a chance because they’ve never given (the Esso Cup) to a facility that hasn’t been built,” said Tony Falasca, general manager of Gateway Ice Centre. “We told them at the time that one of the advantages of giving it to us was not only was the facility going to be built, but we could do a lot of things that they want, right away, instead of having to do it twice.”

Along with ample seating for over 1,300 spectators, a professional-grade sound system and state-of-the-art ice making equipment, the arena went above and beyond the lighting requirements requested by Hockey Canada and host broadcaster, TSN.

The tournament’s gold medal game on April 26 will be televised nationally by TSN/RDS, Hockey Canada’s official broadcast partner.

When teams arrive on April 18 and 19, the ice and rink boards will feature the logos of national advertisers like Nike, Hockey Canada, McDonalds and dozens more.

Gateway president Danny Trombetta is also the owner of Grand River Natural Stone, which is sponsoring the ice and board painting on rink number one.

Trombetta promises that players and officials will be pleased by Gateway’s ice quality.

Ice-making may sound like a simple and routine process, but Trombetta said the process includes a series of intricate sensors to ensure the ice is neither too firm nor too soft. The Gateway ice is scraped and maintained each day at a constant temperature. Each ice pad is built with over eight kilometres of piping under the concrete.

“We have infrared sensors under the concrete pad, on top of the concrete pad and then 40 feet in the air,” said Trombetta. “The difference in the temperature is half a degree Fahrenheit.”

Two of the building’s three ice pads will be dedicated to the Esso Cup. A dressing room in rink two has been upgraded with additional electrical outlets for crock pots, a refrigerator and coffee makers, plus storage space.

The tournament opens on Easter Sunday when Pacific B.C. faces off against Pacific Alta. at 3:30 p.m. But the main event happens later that evening, when the host Stoney Creek Sabres meet Atlantic Canada. The 7 p.m. game will feature an opening ceremony with a Royal Canadian Mounted Police colour guard and flag bearers representing the six teams at the tournament. Hamilton police and the Ontario Provincial Police will also take part in the opening ceremony. Neighbouring girls hockey organizations will be recognized, including Ancaster, Flamborough, Hamilton and St. Catharines.

Each game will conclude with player of the game awards.

For Falasca and Trombetta, the Esso Cup is the first opportunity to showcase a brand new arena on a national stage. And if everything goes according to plan, it won’t be the last.

Falasca hopes to attract other marquee tournaments, like the Senior AAA Allan Cup or the TELUS Cup, the national midget male hockey championship.

A plan for a new commercial building and a fourth ice pad, can only increase the arena’s chances of hosting more national tournaments.

Gateway is already the permanent home of the Midget AA Sabres. This fall, the midget boys Hamilton Bulldogs will relocate to Gateway as well. The team will occupy a dressing room formerly used by the Stoney Creek Generals Senior AAA team. The Generals will receive new accommodations in time for the 2014-15 season. Fans who come for the Esso Cup will not only be impressed by the facility, but also by the level of competition, said Falasca.

“People who come and watch this hockey will be shocked at how good it is.”

Falasca noted that over 70 NCAA Division 1 scouts attended  the Stoney Creek midget and junior Sabres showcase tournaments last September. Along with a Five Star Fitness and Nutrition Centre, Don Cherry’s Sports Grill, and Goal Line Pro Sports, a wrap-around track has drawn many avid runners to Gateway.

“I get a lot of couples coming in just for the track,” said Falasca.

Esso Cup organizing committee chair Glenn Boles hopes to see an average of 1,000 fans for each of the tournament’s 19 games. Numbers could swell as high as 1,300 per game, especially when the Sabres hit the ice.

The Sabres should be primed for success after winning the Lower Lakes Female Hockey League championship for the second straight year last month. Stoney Creek emerged victorious from a pool of 49 teams in the Midget AA division.

After winning their division title, the Sabres competed in seven playoff games, defeating the Buffalo Regals, Burlington Barracudas and the St. Catharines Chaos to qualify for the final weekend.

Stoney Creek then advanced to the Lower Lakes final weekend, which features the five divisional winning teams who play a round robin tournament. After finishing first in the round-robin event, the Sabres took the championship by beating the Clarington Flames 3-0.

At the same time, the Sabres have qualified for the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association provincial championships, from April 10-13. The tournament determines Ontario’s representative at the Esso Cup. Regardless of the outcome, the Sabres are guaranteed an Esso Cup berth as the host team.

Sabres coach Brian Cleary is promising that his team will be ready to excel on a national stage.

“We’re as good as anyone in Canada,” he said. “The majority of our team could be playing junior now. They’re that good.”

The Sabres begin their Esso Cup quest on April 20 at 7:30 p.m. against Team Atlantic, the Moncton Rockets. Other teams who have qualified for the tournament include the Edmonton Thunder (Team Pacific Alta.), the Fraser Valley Phantoms (Pacific BC), and West representative the Weyburn Gold Wings, from Weyburn Sask.

For more on the Esso Cup, see the tournament’s official website.


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