By Richard McGuire
The biggest local event in minor hockey takes place this weekend when the 44th annual SOMHA Atom Fiesta comes to Osoyoos and Oliver.
Hosting the 14-team tournament are the South Okanagan Sun Devils, a small team of skilled youngsters still celebrating their win of the Atom Development B playoff championship on Sunday.
Some teams travel great distances to participate with teams coming from north-central B.C., Vancouver Island and the United States.
There are eight tier one and two teams including Cranbrook, Campbell River, Idaho, Williams Lake, Spokane, two teams from Penticton and the Sun Devils.
The six tier three teams are Quesnel, Kimberley, Saanich, Fernie, Spokane C and Tri-City.
What makes teams come from so far year after year, such as the Quesnel team that has travelled seven or eight hours in each direction for the 44 years the tournament has been running?
“We’ve tried to make it as special as we can,” said Nina Ruck, who is chairing the tournament.
This had meant providing the players with memorabilia to take home and care package treats for the coaches, as well as special opening ceremonies.
The opening starts at 7 p.m. at the Sun Bowl Arena and will include a colour party from the Royal Canadian Legion, greetings from dignitaries and a ceremonial puck dropping by Mitch Fritz, a retired professional hockey player from Osoyoos.
The South Okanagan Sun Devils play their first game of the tournament against Idaho right after the opening ceremonies, at 7:45 p.m. Friday at the Sun Bowl.
Visiting teams get started at 11:45 a.m. Friday when Quesnel takes on Kimberley at the Sun Bowl.
Fourteen of the 32 games take place at the Oliver Arena with the rest at the Sun Bowl.
Round robin games run from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday. Playoffs run from 7 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. on Sunday.
Ruck said the timing of the event is good because it leads into spring break.
“Teams really seem to enjoy it,” she said.
Although the Sun Devils are a small team, Ruck said a number of mothers are pitching in to help organize the events, including running the opening ceremonies, organizing music, running the raffle table and selling 50-50 tickets.
And, with all the players and families coming from out of town, Atom Fiesta makes Osoyoos and Oliver busy places this weekend.