Esso Cup begins Sunday

Nathan Reiter/Daily Herald. The Esso Cup logo at centre ice at the Art Hauser Centre. Photo taken Friday, Apr. 21, 2023.

It was 2018 when a host committee was formed for Prince Albert’s bid for the 2020 Esso Cup. Nearly five years, a cancellation and several postponements later, the 2023 edition of the Esso Cup is set to begin Sunday afternoon at the Art Hauser Centre.

Robin Wildey, chair of the Esso Cup host committee says finally being able to host the tournament is a rewarding feeling.

“We’re excited to finally get the puck down on Sunday. It’s going to be a good feeling for us having the teams come into town tomorrow (Saturday). It seems like everything’s going to happen and we’re geared up for that.”

The setup at the Art Hauser Centre will be slightly different than what fans are used to. A platform has been built in order to support broadcast cameras for the championship game broadcast on TSN on Apr. 29 at 4 p.m.

Wildey says fans in attendance can expect a faster, more competitive game than a typical game in the Saskatchewan Female U18 AAA Hockey League.

“Skill level is going to be first and foremost. These are the best players and the best teams from across Canada coming for this tournament. They will all notice a huge spike in skill levels, even for the fans. So, you’re going to have game day activations pretty much every single game. They’re not going to be disappointed when they leave the game because they know they’re going to see the best on best here in PA.”

After a COVID-19 cancellation left the status of the Esso Cup up in the air, the Host Committee for the tournament never wavered.

Wildey says the committee still worked on organizing the tournament over the course of the pandemic, which helped streamline the process for the 2023 tournament.

“I have to give full credit to my committee for sticking by since day one here with little turnover. Planning and planning you can plan so much, but just the fact that it’s here and we’re so close, I think a lot of credit goes to them for sticking with it and all the planning made this year’s championship much more simple.”

The 2023 Esso Cup features six teams from across Canada competing for the Female U18 club championship. Wildey says the committee is looking forward to promoting the female game.

“Everybody has a vision. And we were able to share that vision back in 2020 and the vision really hasn’t changed. It’s our vision is to put on the best show for the fans, showcase the best talent we have in Canada, and promote and improve the female game.”

Back in February, Amanda Marple, manager of events and properties with Hockey Canada visited the Art Hauser Centre to evaluate the facility.

She says having the event hosted in a facility that hosts a WHL franchise in the Raiders will be something unique experience for the athletes.

“The things that stand out to me are definitely the people and the involvement in the community. I definitely think that being able to be in a WHL venue is going to be a great opportunity for these girls to play in front of some larger crowds. And that’s what we’re hoping to get to with tickets.”

Many athletes who have previously played in the Esso Cup have moved onto play hockey at the college level or move into coaching.

Marple says it’s rewarding to see athletes continue with the game of hockey after competing in the Esso Cup.

“I think that’s something that we’re continually working on building and getting more attention on to the women’s game. I think events like Esso ultimately play a really big role in that because it is something that falls every year. So, there is going to be year over year. We like to go back and see where they are now, especially when we start to host events in communities again, coming back to Prince Albert, coming back to communities to see where hockey is taking these girls, whether they’re now coaching, or they’ve gone to university and come back. There are some really great stories that we’ve seen over the years that have come out of that.”

The 2023 Esso Cup kicks off with a welcome event on Saturday, Apr. 22 at 3 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre parking lot.

The first game of the Esso Cup is Sunday afternoon at 12 p.m. when the West Region representative Regina Rebels face off against the Quebec representative Etoiles de Laurentides-Lanaudiere.

The Prince Albert Northern Bears being the tournament Sunday night against the Atlantic representative Northern Selects