The Pee-Wee Tournament held annually in Jonquière, Quebec, is a well-oiled machine but then again, with over half-a-century’s worth of experience in the mechanics of tournaments under its belt, it should be. Split between two dedicated arenas for the duration of the week-long tournament where 11- and 12-year old players compete in five different Pee-Wee categories — AA, BB, CC, A and B — the organizers offer something that’s not very common anymore: billets for the players.
In fact “offer” isn’t the right word. If your team comes to play in our tournament, your players will be billeted.
It’s not that the Saguenay region doesn’t have hotels, of course it does. Convenient to both rinks, for example, is the recently renovated, 4-star, Delta Saguenay. Its 155 rooms spread over 10 storeys look down toward the now-frozen Saguenay River, the Rio-Tinto Alcan aluminum factory and the company-built town of Arvida to the north; the southern vistas overlook farmland, patchworking their way out towards the Laurentian Mountains.
Billeting and the Pee-Wee tournament have gone hand-in-hand as long as anyone here can remember. Parents who grew up here, whose kids now play hockey, remember their parents always had a player or two staying with them when they were growing up. And we’re trying to keep that tradition alive in our family.
Chopping the Expenses and Making Friends
And why not? Tournaments are expensive. When we lived in the USA and went to tournaments, billeting was never an option. Instead, teams were given lists of hotels they could choose from while playing in the tournament. Along with the choice of hotels came strict guidelines preventing a team from frequenting hotels from outside of the recommended list. The tournament organizers may have negotiated reasonable rates for your stay, but chances are a portion of your hotel bill will be kicked-back to the tournament in the form of a finder’s fee.
Hotels aren’t the only expense. It’s the expense of getting there, and back — and getting around while you’re there — as well as eating and entertainment. Tournaments held in big cities are great on paper, at least, with the conveniences of shopping and choice of restaurants.
Small City Friendliness
Jonquière is no big city. Sure, we have shopping and restaurants, but it’s not the same kind of destination a Chicago or Montreal is. But we have something special here. A possey of volunteers to ensure the smooth running of the region’s biggest ice hockey tournament, one that has its own special brand of hospitality, including two tournament songs, cheering for the Pee-Wees who score a goal (no matter which team) – and billeting.
Many of the players came to the Jonquiere tournament by bus. Last year, they came from Quebec City, Montreal, Bay Comeau, Rockford, Ontario — in fact, a total of 46 teams participated in the 6-day event.
Local teams from the A and B divisions start competing on Monday, before the out-of-towners arrive on Thursday. Thursday evening, all the families who had volunteered to take on players — each family needed to commit to two players from the same team to add to the security of their being billeted — are given time slots for when they could meet their team.
The meeting takes place away from the busy-ness of the arena. The players are ushered into the room together with their coaches, parents and manager once all the billeting families are present and accounted for, and introductions are made.
This year, for the second year in a row, we’ll be hosting the same two boys that stayed with us as first year Pee-Wees last year. Although we’d been given the details of two other boys, the phone rang on Monday evening saying there had been a special request from these two boys, Ethan and Alexi, to stay with us again this year. Nic, my now Bantam-aged son, can’t wait to see his friends again, and I’m rather proud that they’re coming to the tournament once again, and they want to stay with us!
Yesterday we went to watch a couple of games at the Palais de Sports (and eat poutine). In addition to watching the local teams play, we were surprised that so early into the tournament, so many people that we knew were already out to support the Pee-Wees. I’d say it has a neighbourly feel. There are giant mascots from all the different sponsors (I saw two Minions last night), presentations of the teams, music, light shows and awards. Oh, and some of the best poutine in town (and believe me, there’s stiff competition for that!).
The Tournoi Pee Wee de Jonquière! It just might be my favourite week of the year.
Pee-Wee, Pee-Wee, Pee-Wee!