Arizona Hockey Club ready for 15th Annual Presidents’ Day Invitational
As the Arizona Hockey Club (AHC) plans to host its 15th Annual Phoenix Presidents’ Day Invitational during Presidents’ Day weekend, the goals go beyond beating the competition.
The AHC has partnered up with ice rinks, hotels and other local businesses for participants to utilize during the tournament weekend. With over 160 confirmed teams participating, AHC president Stacy Shupe hopes the visitors will not only draw attention to West Coast hockey, but also bring a financial lift to the local economy.
“The tournament has grown with the increase of ice built in the Valley, and we cover all 12 sheets in town, including Gila River Arena,” Shupe said. “Many of the teams come for a more than just the weekend, getting out of the cold, and they boost the revenue of local restaurants, hotels, rental cars, and other entertainment.”
Shawn Babin, one of the club’s coaches who also serves as co-director of the tournament, states the tournament spots for teams fill up year after year. Over 200 teams applied to participate.
“We open up team applications and within a month, it is sold out,” Babin said. “We get a lot of different teams, not just from the West Coast. We do not like to turn teams down, but we just do not have enough ice. We utilize all the rinks in the city of Phoenix and surrounding areas.”
With over 350 games played over a four-day weekend, AHC recognizes the tournament as its premiere event. About 120 of the teams are coming from out of state.
“It, along with our other two tournaments, is our major fundraiser – funding our operations for the next year,” Shupe said. “All the revenue from the three events gets turned back to the club in scholarship programs, subsidized skills sessions, tryout expenses, and more.”
There are teams are coming from as far as Yellow Knife in the Northern Territory, Canada, and Boston, among other locations. Although there are many repeat associations participating, Shupe and Babin want more exposure on the East Coast.
“We are trying to break into the East Coast market to come out here – people do not realize there is a competitive program in the West,” Shupe said. “We are getting some inquiries from teams from Pennsylvania and from Chicago.”
Shupe hopes more hockey teams and fans will tune in to Arizona’s hockey organizations, thanks to the top NHL prospect Auston Matthews, who hails from Scottsdale.
“Hopefully, that will also draw more attention to hockey around here,” Shupe said. “We want to branch out into the Northeast and change their perception about West Coast hockey.”
Babin also wants more exposure of West Coast hockey on the East Coast.
“We want to bring more attention to the state of Arizona, and to show that we have good hockey here,” Babin said. “We want teams to come here from all over the country – who wouldn’t want to come to Arizona in February?”
But Babin’s focus for his 16U AA team is the changeup of its usual local competitors.
“I want them to see the good competition from all over, and I want them to learn from that,” Babin said. “It is a different array of teams – we are playing Canadian teams, and that is something we do not get to do a lot.”
About 14 Arizona Hockey Union teams will be playing in the tournament, including Babin’s team.
“As another benefit of playing for the Club, we subsidize our host teams so they do not have to pay an entry fee, which amounts to an additional $25,000 in support,” Shupe said.
The Invitational will host team divisions ranging from Mites to Midget Elite. The tournament begins on Friday, Feb. 12, with games as early as 7 a.m., and continues to Monday, Feb. 15, running until 4 p.m. at various rinks.
— Katy Wolpoff