It won’t be the largest hockey tournament ever held in Surrey, at least to start, but Wickfest is more than a hockey tournament.
This weekend, Surrey will play host to some 800 young female hockey players during the Canadian Tire Wickenheiser World Female Hockey Festival, better known as Wickfest.
The on-ice action, to involve 48 teams of girls aged eight to 18, starts Friday morning (Feb. 1) at Surrey Sport & Leisure Complex and also Newton Arena.
But the girls don’t just play hockey games during this festival, which includes clinics and workshops that tackle a wide range of subjects, such as sleep, nutrition, financial management, leadership, public speaking, vision testing, concussion analysis and more.
It’s all put together with the leadership of Hayley Wickenheiser, the multiple gold-medalist with Canada’s national women’s hockey team.
The inaugural festival in Surrey follows in the footsteps of a Calgary event that has grown to include close to 120 teams, according to Ceilidh Price, tournament director.
“We actually started in Burnaby after the Olympics in 2010,” she told the Now-Leader, “and then we moved to Calgary after a few years of being here in the Lower Mainland, and now we’re back in the Lower Mainland, this time in Surrey.”
“Surrey targeted us,” Price noted. “They have heard of Wickfest through a mutual contact, Charmaine Crooks, who knew Hayley through the Olympic movement, and she saw the impact Wickfest was having on young women and kind of brought the two partners together.”
For the Falcons, Wickfest replaces the slightly larger SuperHearts tournament the association hosted in Surrey for more than two decades.
“I think a lot of people are getting excited, for sure, and it’s a new concept coming here,” said Gary Mizuno, association president. “This is not just about hockey. There’s a lot of stuff going on.”
A Wickfest opening party Thursday evening (Jan. 31) will set the tone for the weekend to come.
“It’s a swim party, a skating party, a VIP party, and a carnival, a barbecue, all those things,” Price explained. “That’s all Thursday night, and you don’t normally go to a hockey tournament and do all of those things. This really is a festival of these girls – we’re celebrating these girls, their contribution to not just the game but to society as a whole.”
The Surrey edition of Wickfest will start out relatively small and is expected to grow in coming years, Price said.
“That’s only because the new arena (North Surrey Sport & Ice Complex) isn’t built yet,” she said of the 48 teams registered. “So when that new arena comes online later this year, when we come back this time next year, it’ll be ready to go. So we’ll be growing into that arena as well, and we’re excited about that.
“We saw some of the drawings when it was in that first phase, and I haven’t done a hardhat tour, but we’re excited about how it’s all coming together,” Price added.
North Surrey’s new arena will feature three sheets of ice, or floors, at 12780 110th Avenue, south of Scott Road Skytrain station and the Home Depot store.
For now, Fleetwood’s three-sheet Surrey Sport & Leisure Complex will serve as the festival hub.
Asked if tournament organizers found it difficult to find enough ice time for more than 80 games scheduled in four divisions this weekend, from Atom to Midget, Price replied: “Ice is always at a premium in any city in Canada when you’re trying to put together a tournament.”
Teams from as far as Scarborough, Ontario, will play in Surrey during Wickfest.
“And we have two or three from Manitoba, the Winnipeg area, and of course lots of Lower Mainland teams,” Price explained. “We’ve got a couple teams coming from Washington, and as we experienced in Calgary, as the tournament grows we’ll see teams coming from even further away and more teams from other regions.
“I think Surrey is particularly appealing for teams from overseas,” she added, “because of geographic location and accessibility from overseas. Calgary’s a little trickier to get to, and we still have a great amount of interest from overseas, so in Calgary we have had teams from the Czech Republic and Mexico and China and places like that, and India this past year. I think we’ll see even more of that in Surrey as the tournament grows year over year and the notability of the tournament grows internationally.”
Last November, on their way to the Calgary edition of Wickfest, India’s national female hockey team played an exhibition game at Surrey Sport & Leisure Complex against a Bantam-division team representing the Falcons. With donated gear and on-ice clinics to improve their hockey skills, Wickenheiser and others launched a “India2YYC” initiative to help the team make their way to Canada.
In India, the team of women overcame some strong societal and familial pressures in their ambition to play hockey in the mountainous Ladakh region, in the northern area of the country.
“They were well-loved in both Calgary and Surrey, which really took the team under its wing,” recalled Price. “They almost adopted the team right from the get-go. From a financial standpoint, Surrey was one of the biggest contributors to that team coming to Calgary. It was almost too bad that they didn’t come a year later when they could have come and played in Surrey. You know, the City of Surrey, the community of Surrey, the Surrey Falcons, everyone went over above in terms of welcoming them.”
Price said Wickfest would certainly welcome back Team India, any time.
“They would absolutely love to come back here, but it’s a huge, huge undertaking from a financial perspective to bring them to Canada,” Price said. “The support for hockey in India is negligible, and for women’s hockey, it’s that much more negligible. So really it would be on the host country, the host organization, to fundraise pretty much all of the money.
“The growth they experienced while they were here, even in the two weeks or so, from Day 2 to Day 14, was remarkable in terms of skill – it was absolutely remarkable, how far they came,” Price continued. “And now they’ve gone home to Ladakh and have been passing that knowledge on, not just to girls in their community but to all the kids in their community, and have been working even with the kids that are doing sledge hockey, because we took some sleds up there in January when Hayley went there to visit. So that’s really cool to see how they’re continuing to pay it forward.”
The Team India experience in Surrey and Calgary is exactly what Wickfest is all about, Price said.
“The spirit of the festival is that we’re growing not just the player, but the person,” she explained. “We always joke that we trick these girls into thinking they’re coming to play in a hockey tournament when really they’re coming to do a weekend of personal development. You know, the hockey tournament certainly is the part of what Wickfest is, but the whole goal of the event is all those off-ice clinics and workshops that we offer to the girls – and their parents and the officials and the siblings. It’s really a family weekend where they get to try different sports, and this year they will get to try rugby, they’ll get to try golf, they’re doing some arts and culture activities. There’s a henna class they can do, and bhangra dance. They’ll also have an opportunity to learn more about pursuing a career in firefighting, in police.”
Price said the off-ice sessions will include some notable speakers, including Wickenheiser, Hockey Hall of Famer Cammi Granato, Canadian bobsledder Kaillie Humphries, Olympian Meghan Agosta, recent U18 world champ Jenn Gardiner of Surrey and others – but those events aren’t open to the public.
“We have these fantastic role models in different sports, in different areas of life,” Price said. “So they get access to all of this in a single weekend. In the meantime, they’re doing something that they love, playing hockey, and they’re with their friends, they’re with their family, and so they tend to be a little bit more open and receptive to all these new experiences and learning. And so girls walk away from these weekends feeling really empowered – but it’s not just the girls, it’s their siblings, their parents, their dads and coaches – everybody gets to access this stuff. It’s not just limited to the girls who are playing.”