A pee wee team from Houston, Texas is one of 10 competing in the Red Deer Minor Hockey Thanksgiving Invitational Tournament this weekend at the Kinsmen Arenas.
The team is coached by Ron Kraft, a former Red Deer Rustler and bench boss for the RDC Kings.
“We actually have four Canadian parents on the team and they are either involved in oil and gas or other industries, so they all wanted to come up here,” states Kraft. “It’s a great opportunity for our kids, a great opportunity to see what it’s like to play against high caliber Canadian teams. They knew the hockey was going to be very, very competitive and just see what it’s like in Canada, some of the kids have never even been out of the state!
“Some of the kids have never seen snow,” added Kraft. “We’ve had a few snowfalls over the last number of years and the cold temperature a bit too but some guys have to adjust to that.”
The Houston Hurricanes are competing against both of Red Deer’s Pee Wee AA teams and others from Swift Current, Saskatchewan, Calgary, Lethbridge, Fort Saskatchewan, Wainwright and the Lacombe-based Central Alberta Selects.
Kraft, a Medicine Hat native, took over from Mike Babcock as the RDC Kings head coach in 1991 and guided the team to an ACAC title in 1993-94. He also later succeeded Babcock at the University of Lethbridge.
He now hopes his team of 11 and 12-year-olds takes away a lot of growth from this weekend’s tournament.
“You know, it’s about competing and also trying to do some tactical things,” explains Kraft. “So for a Pee Wee level, this is a great growth opportunity, even this first game here against a tough Red Deer team, it was good for us.”
The Hurricanes fell 12-4 in their opening game of the tournament Friday morning to Red Deer Motors.
“We had some good chances, we had opportunities but when you get higher-skilled kids, like the Red Deer kids who had an opportunity to score it’s in the back of the net and that’s what happened today,” Kraft explained. “The shots were pretty well even and we had some great opportunities but we didn’t score on our opportunities that we did and they were able to.”
Red Deer Motors head coach Jared Smyth said his team enjoyed the experience of playing against Houston.
“You never really get to play teams from other countries a lot, so it was a fun game, a fun time,” said Smyth. “We just wanted to concentrate on our game and focus on what we do best and play our style of hockey. Letting them see other styles of hockey and different ways of doing things, hopefully they can learn from that.”
Kraft says what Houston’s hockey association needs is more rinks as the city, America’s fourth-largest, only has ‘three or four.’
“You compare us to Dallas and Dallas is just years ahead of us in terms of having an NHL team, but more importantly with all the rinks for their kids,” Kraft lamented. “I think they have close to 16-18 sheets of ice now and that just makes a huge difference, it’s a greater mass participation of kids and greater skills that come as a result of that.”
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