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Pee Wee hockey tournament returns to Hudson

International teams assembled for the opening ceremony of the 2019 Pee Wee International Friendship Ice Hockey Tournament in Japan, where Hudson Mayor Rich O’Connor traveled to represent Hudson, the 2021 hosts. Photo courtesy of Rich O’Connor1 / 5
Hudson Mayor Rich O’Connor received the ceremonial flag from Mr. Tadakiyo Kaneiri at the 2019 Pee Wee International Friendship Ice Hockey Tournament in Japan. Hudson will host the tournament in 2021. Photo courtesy of Rich O'Connor2 / 5
Hudson Mayor Rich O’Connor is pictured with Mayor Makoto Kobayashi of Hachinohe at the 2019 Pee Wee International Friendship Ice Hockey Tournament in Japan in May. Photo courtesy of Rich O’Connor3 / 5
Hudson has been selected to host the 2021 Pee Wee International Friendship Ice Hockey Tournament. Here, Hudson representatives are pictured at the 2019 tournament in Japan in May. Photo courtesy of Rich O’Connor4 / 5
Hudson Pee Wee Hockey Coach Jeramy Page and Hudson Mayor Rich O’Connor with Mr. Tadakiyo Kaneiri at the 2019 Pee Wee International Friendship Ice Hockey Tournament in Japan. Photo courtesy of Rich O’Connor5 / 5

Hudson will plays hosts to youth from across the globe in two years, after being selected as the 2021 site for the Pee Wee International Friendship Ice Hockey Tournament.

Held every two years, the tournament brings together teams from Hudson, St. Paul, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, among others.

The tournament isn't all that competitive. Instead it focuses on fostering cultural exchange between the players, who are around 11-13 years old.

Visiting players stay with host families, and have time to interact with them and their children as well as get a feel for the host city and country.

"We're eating their food and listening to their music and doing all the things they enjoy doing," Mayor Rich O'Connor said.

Now, for the second time, Hudson will have the chance to play that role as host.

Hudson has participated in the tournament since 2003, and previously hosted it in 2011.

Other hosts have included St. Paul; Aldergrove, British Columbia; Newcastle, Australia; Hachinohe, Japan and more. The tournament started in 1989 in Japan.

O'Connor first became involved with the tournament in 1991, when he and his family hosted hosted players from British Columbia while living in St. Paul.

Hudson was asked if it would be interested in helping to host players for the 2003 tournament in St. Paul. Residents hosted kids from Russia, New Zealand, Canada and Japan.

O'Connor still keeps in touch with the kids his family has hosted, as well as their parents.

"Which is pretty much the whole point of the tournament," he said.

Hudson began making its case to serve as host for the entire tournament. Their pitch was accepted for 2011.

They were asked to host it again in 2021. O'Connor attended the 2019 tournament in Japan in May to make the final presentation, and accept the ceremonial flag transfer.

Teams are made up of between 15-20 players. Hudson's team had 15 in its recent trip to Japan.

The team doesn't hold tryouts, and rarely turns anyone away. The only time they have, O'Connor said, is when they had too many players trying for goalie. Both boys and girls can be on the team, with female players making up 10 of the 15 players in Japan.

Jeramy Page, who leads the Hudson team, said traveling to the tournaments requires a lot of coordination and prep, including setting up the travel and fundraising.

"Without the local community support on the fundraising in particular it would have been hard on a lot of families," Page said.

Now serving as host will require even more coordination.

Every player on the Hudson team will host at least two visiting players. They'll also be asking for local host families as well," Page said.

Those families will be responsible for housing, feeding, transporting the players to their games and events. They'll also have the opportunity to show them Hudson, Page said.

The tournament creates a strong emotional attachment, O'Connor said.

"There are a lot of tears shed when these kids leave," he said.

Many of the players keep in touch, something made easier now with social media.

Hudson will likely have two teams on the ice in 2021.

"It's easier when you don't travel," O'Connor said.

Still, not every kid can afford to skate, Page said, and the team will still need the community's support.

Other local towns will likely get involved in the tournament as well, O'Connor said, increasing participation.

Page said they expect 14 to 18 teams for the tournament, with about 15 kids each. With families, that will be between 400-600 people in town.

He expects a large attendance than the first tournament.

"Word's out, Hudson is a destination spot," Page said.

Many players and families have shared their excitement to go to Hudson, O'Connor said.

The financial impact will be at least the same as the 2011 tournament, O'Connor said. That event brought $1 million to the city, with large portions of that going to hotels and restaurants.

"The impact on the local economy is immense" O'Connor said.

Visitors to past tournaments in Hudson and St. Paul have done a lot of shopping, from clearing the shelves at a St. Paul sporting goods store to buying a pick up truck to send back to New Zealand.

Page said the community should be ready for a lot of visitors, and to welcome them with open arms.

"It's an opportunity once again to show off Hudson, and this time to the world," O'Connor said.

Rebecca Mariscal

Rebecca Mariscal joined the Hudson Star Observer as a reporter in 2016. She graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in communication and journalism. 

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