Twelve of the top-ranked Bantam AAA hockey teams in the Western United States and British Columbia will compete in the inaugural Western Hockey League U.S. Challenge Cup Feb. 20-23 in Kent.
The teams will feature players ages 14 and under who are the top in their age group. Games will be at the accesso ShoWare Center and the Kent Valley Ice Centre. The WHL in partnership with NHL Seattle and Visit Kent (visitkent.com) announced the tournament Tuesday in a media release.
“We are thrilled the WHL has chosen to host the WHL U.S. Challenge Cup in Kent,” said Mayor Dana Ralph in the media release. “As home to accesso ShoWare Center and the Kent Valley Ice Centre, we appreciate the value of youth sports. This is a great opportunity to grow the popularity of hockey in the region and to showcase all that Kent has to offer.”
The primary objective of the tournament is to promote the growth of hockey at the grassroots level.
“The U.S. Challenge Cup is a great opportunity for us to work with local hockey groups as we look to grow the sport in the Pacific Northwest,” said Tod Leiweke, NHL Seattle president and CEO, and whose team will debut in 2021 at the new arena under construction at Seattle Center. “This tournament will showcase a high level of competition and highlight the importance of building community and fostering relationships through the sport of hockey. We are very proud to be able to help present the inaugural U.S. Challenge Cup.”
The round-robin tournament will feature teams such as the Dallas Stars Elite ‘05, Los Angeles Jr. Kings, Phoenix Jr. Coyotes, San Diego Saints, San Jose Jr. Sharks, Team Alaska 14U and the Seattle Junior 14U club. Traveling from Canada will be Delta Hockey Academy Green, the Greater Vancouver Canadians, Okanagan Rockets, West Van Warriors and Yale Academy.
It will be a 12-team round-robin format, with the top four teams advancing to the medal round.
“Kent is excited to partner with the WHL and NHL Seattle to bring the inaugural WHL U.S. Challenge Cup to our region,” said Kent City Council President Bill Boyce, who represents Visit Kent. “As the home of the Seattle Thunderbirds, it makes perfect sense to host the top-ranked youth players from the U.S. and Canada to play in this high-calibre tournament. We hope this championship will grow awareness and excitement about hockey and look forward to seeing these young players compete – and eventually move on to join the Thunderbirds and Seattle’s NHL team.”
The tournament will showcase the next generation of American-born stars. Many of the clubs competing have produced numerous WHL and NHL stars, including Seth Jones (Dallas Stars Elite / Portland Winterhawks), Scott Gomez (Team Alaska / Tri-City Americans), and Kailer Yamamoto (Los Angeles Jr. Kings / Spokane Chiefs).
“The WHL is very excited to partner with NHL Seattle, Visit Kent and the Seattle Thunderbirds on staging the WHL’s first U.S. Challenge Cup in Kent,” said WHL Commissioner Ron Robison. “Due to the support our partners are providing, the WHL is in a position to make this inaugural tournament a first class event for all participating teams.”
The 12 participating Bantam teams will be the ShoWare Center guests of the Thunderbirds when they host the Portland Winterhawks for a U.S. Division rivalry game on Saturday, Feb. 22.
The WHL also announced that it will host a WHL U.S. Prospects Draft in March, which will consist of two rounds. The Calgary, Alberta-based WHL consists of 22 clubs with 17 in Western Canada and five in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, including the Thunderbirds. A member of the Canadian Hockey League, the WHL has been a leading supplier of talent for the NHL for more than 50 years.