The longest-running hockey tournament on Vancouver Island will be back for another installment March 26-29 as the Doug Bondue Arena in Port Alice hosts the 36th installment of the Oscar Hickes event.
The Oscar Hickes tournament was first held in 1978.
Oscar was born Oscar Tootoo in 1952 in Churchill, Manitoba. Oscar, one of 12 children, grew up playing hockey with his brothers. It was in Churchill that Oscar met his two best friends Ray Carter and Bill Poole.
Eventually, with Ray in the lead, all three came to settle in Port Alice and Oscar began work as a carpenter at the Port Alice Pulp mill in 1972. Oscar’s first priority upon his arrival was to join a hockey team. He played for the Huskies and then later for the Blues. He surprised his teammates by not wearing socks, always buying his skates to fit his “bare feet”. He said his feet never got cold and that barefoot skating allowed better control and balance.
For someone with such good balance and control, he could get conveniently clumsy. Often taking down two men by simply flopping on them and conveniently crawling over them to retrieve a glove and back over them to get his stick! He did it all with a wide-mouthed grin and the best manners. Oscar could give and take the toughest punishment always with a smile on his face.
In August 1978, Oscar went to see a specialist in Vancouver to correct a knee problem so that he could play hockey that winter.
The doctor told Oscar that his playing days were over. Minutes later, while stopped at a red light, Oscar slumped over the steering wheel of the car and passed away shortly after of a heart attack. He was only 27 years old.
His friends and teammates miss him dearly. The annual tournament is a way for them to honour him.
Since its inception, hockey players from all over Vancouver Island have travelled to pay homage to a fallen hero, meet and mingle with old friends, and play some great hockey.
One of those people is Demi Christou who was raised in Port Alice and has played in almost every Oscar Hickes tournament for the past 11 years.
“I play for “Getting Greasy” with a group of friends from my high school years,” said Christou.
“Oscar Hickes passed away before I was even born, so I did not have the privilege of meeting him. However, from what has been passed down, I understand that he was a Port Alice local with a passion for hockey, a love for his community, and an infectiously-positive personality,” Christou said.
This year the event will feature 12 teams – seven in the A-Commercial and five in the C-Recreational.
“Many of the same teams, most of which are either based in the North Island or have roots here, compete annually. The teams range in age marking different generations in the town’s (and North Island community’s) history. There are also teams from other parts of the island and the mainland that are more than willing to make the trek for the now famous Oscar Hickes Memorial tournament,” said Christou.
“The tournament brings many people like myself, who have moved away from the North Island, back to the community to reconnect with our roots and the people we grew up with. The Oscar Hickes weekend has become the glue that holds the old residents and new together,” he said.
“What really makes the weekend special is the fact that every few years a new team comprised of a new crop of young North Islanders is entered. These kids finally have an opportunity to compete in the tournament they grew up watching, and their enthusiasm is infectious. It’s not uncommon for brothers to face off against each other or fathers and sons to play on the same team,” said Christou.
“These connections help to forge fierce rivalries on the ice between family and friends. Fortunately, these on-ice battles are always followed by unparalleled camaraderie in the stands over a few frosty pops. It is really amazing to see and, despite the state of the local economy, never seems to disappoint,” Christou says.
There is never a shortage of things to do on the weekend of Oscar Hickes.
“The stands at the arena are generally packed, especially for the prime-time battles between local squads,” he said.
The stands are split in half; one is a beer garden of which the proceeds are re-invested. The second half is a non-drinking section for families and children. With teams competing for almost 24 hours a day, folks are able to drop in and watch some great hockey at almost any hour,” said Christou.
The tournament is also an opportunity for local groups to raise funds. The kitchen is being operated by North Island Secondary School Dry Grad, the concession by Port Alice Minor Hockey, the Parent Advisory Committee has a raffle table, beer gardens by Old Timers Hockey and Henny Penny Play School is handling the door.
In addition to games, there is a dance hosted by the Lion’s Club on Saturday, March 28 and the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 180 hosts an apres Oscar Hickes turkey dinner on Sunday.
“The Oscar Hickes dance is, for many, the highlight of the weekend as people of all ages (so long as they’re over 19) intermingle to celebrate our community and our beloved hockey tournament,” said Christou. Organizers are still looking for time keepers. If interested please email firstname.lastname@example.org