Sebastian Fortier, chief executive officer at OneHockey, had a dream last year about organizing the largest youth hockey tournament ever. The dream was so vivid it woke Fortier up at 2:40 a.m. one day. Two weeks later, the Zambonis were in motion to turn that vision into a reality.
If all goes according to plan, more than 664 youth hockey teams—the current record—will compete in the OneHockey World Guinness Holiday Invite Dec. 27-30, 2018, across Michigan. As of early March, 567 teams had already committed to trying to be part of history.
How sure is Fortier his dream will be a reality? “One hundred percent confident,” he declares.
Using connections built throughout the hockey world since he began planning tournaments in 2004, Fortier expects about 700 teams will participate. “We don’t want to shatter the record, just break it,” says Fortier.
The 2007 Minor Hockey Week Tournament, is Fortier’s white whale. The 664 teams brought in 10,992 players to Calgary, which hosted 957 games over 42 sheets of ice.
Fortier plans to eclipse all those marks. OneHockey will use 58 ice rinks across Michigan. Availability isn’t a problem because of the holidays, says Fortier. The event looks to be a huge boon for hotels with usually low occupancy rates. Fortier says the tournament will bring in 25,000 room nights to the state’s economy.
Russia, Norway, and France are among the countries already represented in the field. Including the U.S. and Canada, more than 10 countries could be accounted for.
“Everyone we speak to wants to play in this,” Fortier says. “If they can afford to come, they are signing up right away.”
‘We’re Kind of Crazy’
One-third of the teams will be Michigan, in part as a nod to the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association and also to make it more competitive to fill the remaining spots across the 15 divisions. The round-robin format ensures each team will play at least five games. Championships will be held Dec. 30 at the tournament’s best venues.
Other than the sheer size, the Holiday Invite will bear OneHockey’s other hallmarks. “We’re kind of crazy,” Fortier admits. “It’s a festival. The arenas are decorated; we have mascots and player interviews. The whole rink is alive.”
Fortier and his team can’t be in 58 venues at once, so a large of the pre-planning process is teaching Michigan-based volunteers how to measure up to OneHockey’s standards.
Michigan’s abundance of rinks and love of hockey made it a natural for Fortier to reach out to.
After the event concludes, Fortier can set out to break his own presumed record. He is already in talks with Minnesota officials about duplicating the effort in 2019.