Girls' Hockey Tournament Draws Thousands Of Players To State
December 29, 2009
HARTFORD — - Molly O'Sullivan dreams of playing hockey for Westminster School in Simsbury, where she says the athletics are as intense as the academics.
So this year, the 16-year-old and her family made the trek from Plymouth, Mass., to Hartford in the hope that a scout would spot her competing in the biggest youth ice hockey tournament in the nation.
"It's probably the most exposure you can get in one tournament," James O'Sullivan, her father, said after a game Monday at the Koeppel Community Sports Center at Trinity College in Hartford. "All of the highest-quality players are here under one roof."
About 3,500 female hockey players and their families poured into the Hartford area two days after Christmas to compete in the annual Connecticut Polar Bears Holiday Tournament. Two hundred and eight teams will vie for 14 championship spots in varying age groups, which include girls and women aged 8 to 20. The tournament ends Wednesday.
Although she's already completed two years of high school, O'Sullivan said she hopes to transfer to Westminster and eventually enroll at a college with a strong women's hockey team. Her club team, the Bay State Breakers, lost 4-0 on Monday, but she said she still spoke with scouts after the game.
"The attention here is really good," said O'Sullivan, a right winger. "I'm hoping for some kind of scholarship."
Scouts from most major universities in the U.S. and Canada and prep and Ivy League schools throughout New England stop by to survey the talent, said Maurice FitzMaurice, the tournament's founder and director.
He said he started the competition 25 years ago as a way for schools to recruit young female players.
"In those days, girls played on boys' teams and they didn't participate in national tournaments," FitzMaurice said. "They were missing opportunities for scholarships and financial aid. Now they can get colleges' attention."
And they do. Scouts from Brown University, Trinity College, the University of North Dakota and Providence College, among others, stopped by the Koeppel sports center Monday, one of the 13 rinks at which the teams compete. Several more will make rounds during the next two days, FitzMaurice said.
"Right now, we're watching the younger kids," said Maria Lewis, an assistant coach for the University of North Dakota women's hockey team, who sat in on a game Monday. "We earmark them now and keep an eye on them as they progress over the next few years. It's kind of a staple during the holidays to come out here."
Players traveled from as far away as Alaska and Canada to attend.
"A lot of girls on the team want to come to schools in the U.S. Most of the scholarships are better here," said Debbie Deevey. She and her daughter, Tawnya Guindon, 17, came from Rockland, Ontario, for the tournament.
The competition hasn't just turned others' attention to Connecticut. It has also provided a more than $5 million boost to the state's economy, with guests staying at local hotels and dining in restaurants.
H. Scott Phelps, president of the Greater Hartford Convention & Visitors Bureau, said it offers a much-needed surge during the slowest business week of the year for area hotels.
"It's a tremendously popular tournament and we want to keep it going," he said. "It keeps building year after year."
The economic downturn hasn't affected the tournament, organizers said.
"I thought we'd have a contraction this year," FitzMaurice said. "We just haven't seen it."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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