A long-running tournament hosted by the Red Deer Ringette Association is celebrating 35 years this weekend.
The Friends on Ice competition features 70 teams and more than 1000 athletes and coaches this year as teams play out of the Kinsmen Arenas, the Collicutt and at the Dawe Centre.
Coordinator Erin Luke played in the Friends on Ice tournament as a child and is now watching her daughter do the same.
“I remember my mom helping out with this tournament when I was a child. It was fairly small. Now we have a team from Saskatchewan this year and the rest are from all over Alberta,” says Luke, who left ringette for hockey at the age of 14.
“There’s a lot of idea that there’s more opportunity and scholarships in women’s hockey, but personally, now with my daughter, I want her to stay with ringette. We have a national ringette league, and the University of Alberta gives out a ton of scholarships.”
Luke says there’s also an extra buzz around the tournament with the 2019 Canada Winter Games just over a month away.
Ringette debuted at the Canada Winter Games in 1991.
“We have many people within our association volunteering for the Canada Winter Games and we’re really hoping that the buzz it creates within our sport will help out our association as well,” says Luke, who is serving a medical team organizer for Westerner Park during the Games. “The Games not only help out our city in getting upgrades to facilities, but it’s going to showcase the sport a bit and hopefully get some more girls interested in registering.”
This year, the Red Deer Ringette Association has 19 teams from U6 to U19, with Friends on Ice featuring the same ages, plus an overage division with competitors as old as 60.
Luke says the tournament is so popular, organizers actually had to turn away upwards of 30 teams because there wasn’t enough ice.
“Hockey is our sport and that’s what it’s always been; and women’s hockey is really growing which is great to see, but ringette, although it’s similar, is very different from hockey,” she says. “Ringette has more of a team-based focus because you have to pass over the blueline, so there’s no way for you to be a team with just one good player. You have to work as a team to advance.”
“We like to say it’s the fastest game on ice,” Luke jokes, taking a jab at one of hockey’s best-known slogans.
The Friends on Ice tourney wrapped up on Sunday, with several local teams putting up impressive performances.
The Red Deer Rush U12B-2 and U14A teams both won gold in their respective divisions.
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