Leaside hockey teams go wild with medals

The 36th annual March Break Madness girls hockey tournament wrapped up Sunday night with 11 of the 27 host Leaside Wildcats teams collecting medals.

A record 140 teams, some from as far away as California, faced off in 20 divisions in the March 13-15 tournament, which was played at 12 venues throughout Toronto. It was the largest slate of teams since 2012, when 131 teams competed. Of 60 medals up for grabs, Leaside teams competing in atom, peewee, bantam, midget and senior divisions took two gold, six silver and three bronze.

Wildcats president and tournament organizer Jennifer Smith said she received a lot of positive feedback from players, parents and teams, which meets her goal of creating a “great experience” for the players and ensuring they want to keep playing.

“Our responsibility as an association is to cultivate a lifelong love of hockey in these young women,” she said. “So when they’re 40 and they have a crappy day at work and they’re driving home on the Gardiner but they’re not moving, they say to themselves ‘thank God I have hockey tonight.'”

Smith said she even received compliments about the quality of officiating.

Natalie Spooner signs autographs
CELEBRITY APPEARANCE: Canadian women’s national team forward Natalie Spooner, right, signed autographs during the March Break Madness tournament Saturday.

Autograph sessions with current Canadian women’s national team forward Natalie Spooner and former Toronto Maple Leaf Mark Osborne were held on Saturday.

Organizers supplied all 140 teams with cases of water and bananas — something that turned out to provide so much feedback, Smith said people were “raving about the bananas”. She said it worked well as a lesson for the kids that nutrition matters, especially after seeing how exhausted many of the players were by tournament’s end.

“Two games Friday, two games Saturday, two games Sunday — you don’t see that in the NHL,” she said. “You want to be Natalie Spooner? She doesn’t eat a bag of chips between periods.”