Wildcats big winners in tournament

[attach]7612[/attach]There was a sense of rejuvenation, rebirth for Leaside Wildcats as their 35th annual March Break Madness tournament wound down March 9.

Deep in Leaside Memorial Gardens, a hive of activity was buzzing in the morning, and Toronto Leaside Girls Hockey Association president Jennifer Smith admits she loves that they’ve returned home.

“Just having the two pads, and the auction here has created a great hub,” she said, six hours before her flight to Madrid, Spain for, of all things, hockey. “It’s funny because — and for all our guests coming in they have no idea — for us I think of it as a rebirth.

“Both for our tournament, but also all season long. I’ll come here on a Tuesday night, both pads are going, there’s four teams arriving for the next game. People, in particular seniors, from the community come in and watch the games. How nice is that?”

Smith and her executive invited 2,100 participants to Leaside from places as far as Manitoulin and Sault Ste. Marie.

Andrew Smyth, the tournament’s director, has been at the helm for six years, and the last few have been dedicated to raising money for the new ice pad.

“The last couple of years we’ve had the tournament we’ve been fundraising for the new arena,” Smyth said. “The Leaside girls have put in $75,000 through the last two tournaments to help fund the arena, as well as many families have donated their time and money to the arena.

“Every year the tournament takes many, many hours, and many volunteers from within the organization and many sponsorships from the local community. It’s with these people this tournament happens.”

But this will be his last time coordinating the event.

“My daughter [Gabby] is playing PWHA next year so I want to be able to step back and enjoy it,” he admitted, adding Gabby has garnered interest from New Zealand’s Division 2B IIHF team.

Every year money raised from the tournament goes back into the association, Smith said. The association pays for coaches and volunteers’ certifications, as well as goalie pads for all house league teams.

“We provide goalie equipment to every kid on a loaner basis — that equates to us owning 75 sets of goalie equipment,” she said. “It needs to be replaced, cleaned, supplemented every year.”

Past president Ron Baker shared the same sentiment. He was handing out medals after the final games during the day, and was still wide-eyed even after a 5:30 a.m. start, “daylight savings time.”

“It’s great to see all these kids here,” he said, adding Premier Kathleen Wynne had visited in the morning. “This is just all good … You can kind of tell I love this thing.”

As for the hockey, Leaside cashed in on being the host, winning 20 medals in 15 divisions — four gold, three silver and six bronze.