NEWS
11/12/2015 16:24 EST | Updated 11/12/2016 00:12 EST

Minor hockey players from across Canada meet in Moncton

Young hockey stars from across the country are meeting in Moncton beginning on Thursday for the Monctonian AAA Challenge.

This year's tournament sees 1,200 bantam and midget-aged players from 56 teams play more than 100 games.

The action takes place at the Superior Propane Centre's four-rink complex, with a few games being played at the Moncton Coliseum.

Blair Brooks, the tournament's chairperson, has been involved since the early 1990s, and said this one is the biggest tournaments yet.

In fact, he said it could have been even bigger.

"We had turned two teams from B.C. away and one team from Ontario. We just didn't have the ice," he said.

"So now we have to go back to the drawing board again and book more ice in order to expand, which we're going to have to do."

Brooks said the reputation of the tournament has grown as well, attracting numerous prospects along with scouts from a variety of leagues.

He even mentions a kid named Crosby.

"Sidney Crosby played in this tournament when he was 14," said Brooks. 

"We helped set up his first major TV interview."

The Okanagan Hockey Academy Prep Reds have travelled the furthest to play in the Monctonian. 

Based in Penticton, B.C., the team has to overcome a four-hour time difference before hitting the ice. 

Coach Robert Dirk said this is the second year in a row that they're taken part, and he confirmed the tournament is very competitive.

"It's a long way to come, but I was told the Monctonian is the tournament to come to in the east, and that's why we're here."

While hockey is the focus, Dirk admitted the travel and experience is also important for his teenaged team.

"We plan on going to Magnetic Hill and taking the guys down to the bay to see the before-tide and after-tide," he said.

Atlantic provinces are well represented

The Atlantic provinces are well represented this year with several teams coming from each province.

Denis Toner is the captain of New Brunswick's Fredericton Caps, who opened the tournament with a 2-1 loss against the St. John's Maple Leafs of Newfoundland. 

The Grand Falls native said an early loss is a big hole to climb out of. "It's always tough to lose your first game though, because you know you only have three chances."

Toner will be playing against good teams from traditional hockey powerhouses such as Ontario and Quebec.

Although his team is from Fredericton, when asked if he felt some home-ice advantage in Moncton, the teenager was blunt.

"Not really," he says with a chuckle.

"You still feel like you're away. You see those teams from everywhere and you tell yourself, 'Well, we're kind of close but we're still away."

Tournament brings business

The Moncton-area hospitality industry is a big tournament winner too, as 1,200 players, along with team staff, parents and spectators all need a place to stay, eat and shop.

Some hotels are reporting they're at capacity, and restaurants are saying they're seeing increased business as well.

At Maritime Source for Sports, Paxton Daley, the store's manager, looks forward to big tournaments like the Monctonian, and said this is one of their busiest weekends of the year.

"We normally have three or four technicians in all weekend so we can get the people in and out as fast as possible, so they can get back to the ice," Daley said.

The list of repairs they do is a testament to how hard the kids play.

"Blade changes, rivets, fixing eyelets on skates, straps on chest protectors, shin pads, anything you can think of," said Daley.

When the tournament wraps up on Sunday, the destiny of many young hockey players may be set in motion.

Scouts will be making notes and taking numbers, returning to their clubs with the names of potential draft picks.

With so much attention on them, do players ever get nervous?

Fredericton's Toner says yes.

"No one can change that feeling of being nervous, to be watched," he said.

With experience, however, comes confidence, and Toner has one less thing to worry about this time around.

"This year is a little different. I'm drafted already," Toner said.