A group of local hockey players and coaches is going to leave winter behind -- at least for a short time.
The Prince George Custom Edge Sports Canucks will be in Phoenix, Ariz., Feb. 18-21 for the President's Day Invitational tournament. The event will bring together teams from across North America, in several different age categories. The Canucks are a bantam team, formed by 13- and 14-year-olds.
"It's something that's been in the works for quite a while," said Canucks coach Randy Potskin. "We managed to put it together and we're looking forward to it, for sure.
"I don't think anybody from Prince George has done this before -- not that I've heard of. For me, it's the last year of bantam for my one kid (Nicholas) so I kind of wanted to make it special. One of the moms said, 'Well, Randy, let's go somewhere hot, you like to travel.' So I looked on-line and did some research and I found this one in Phoenix."
For some of the Canucks players, this trip will be their first outside of Canada. Some families are using the hockey tournament as the centrepiece of a winter getaway.
The Canucks will play three round-robin games and at least one playoff game in the bantam B division. In round robin, they'll skate against the Phoenix Polar Bears on Feb. 18, the Midnapore Wolves on Feb. 19 and the Orange County Hockey Club on Feb. 20. Teams in the other pool are the Crowfoot Saints, Arizona Heat, Beach City Lightning and Foothills Flyers.
Here in Prince George, the Canucks are a club team, which is one rung below Tier 2 rep. So far this season, they have entered three tournaments and won two of them -- in Jasper and Vanderhoof.
"We're not a big team but we've definitely got good chemistry," Potskin said. "The kids all get along really well and we're a good skating and passing team."
Other members of the Canucks are Trevor Clark, Josh Goyer, Sterling Cardinal, Braeden Rake, Jesse Rake, Parker Dowhy, Spencer Kaulback, Lee Schmeisser, Dawson Young, Darian Fay, Steffen Mogensen, Connor Scully, Brennan Bredo and goaltenders Jonathan French and Brady Patterson. The coaching staff includes Wayne Sands, John French and Todd Patterson, and the team manager is Allison Sands.
While they are in Phoenix, the Canucks will attend an NHL game between the Coyotes and Atlanta Thrashers. In that game, there could be two local connections because P.G. minor hockey product Jason LaBarbera is a backup goaltender for the Coyotes and former Prince George Cougar Dustin Byfuglien is an all-star defenceman for the Thrashers.
If things go according to plan, the Canucks could have a close encounter with the guys in Coyotes uniforms.
"One of our parents has a connection with LaBarbera so we're hoping he can get us down below to meet some of the players," Potskin said.