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With an assist from the Flyers, a team of local youngsters are enjoying the trip of a lifetime at the prestigious Quebec peewee tournament

The Quebec peewee tournament hosts between 120-140 teams from around the world each year and counts Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and 1,294 other NHL players among its alumni.

The Flyers Quebec peewee team is made up of 12-and 13-year-olds from the greater Philadelphia area.
The Flyers Quebec peewee team is made up of 12-and 13-year-olds from the greater Philadelphia area.Read moreCourtesy of the Philadelphia F

When the Flyers Quebec peewee team arrived at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees early Monday morning, they arrived with bright eyes full of excitement.

They soon settled in on a bus to watch a “not overly entertaining” movie their coach, Pat Ferrill, deliberately chose to hopefully send them back to sleep. The hyper busload of 12- and 13-year-olds remained happily unburdened by the knowledge that just a week before, their dream trip to the Quebec peewee tournament was in serious doubt.

The tournament, normally held around the province’s winter carnival in February, had already been postponed to May because of COVID-19. Braiden Scuderi said he and his teammates were disappointed about missing out on the traditional activities but soon turned their attention to the spring.

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However, COVID struck again, just days before the team’s departure. Due to the complications crossing the Canadian border during the pandemic, the bus company set to drive them pulled out.

Finding a trustworthy company is difficult but essential, said Ferrill, who has been on 18 of these trips. The team also had to deal with much higher costs with last-minute arrangements and soaring gas prices. The tournament is already expensive for families, so before letting the parents and kids know there was anything wrong, Robert Baer, the Flyers’ Director of Youth and Amateur Hockey, asked the Flyers for help.

Growing the game is a huge focus for the Flyers. Typically, they focus on “getting sticks in hands,” Baer said. But they like to have “touch points” through all levels of hockey.

When the Flyers heard about the peewee team’s dilemma, they quickly stepped in and picked up the extra costs for the bus. That assist set the team off for an experience that many of the tournament’s alumni call one of the best of their lives.

Joining elite company

The Quebec tournament is the most prestigious youth hockey tournament in the world, comparable to the Little League World Series in Williamsport. It has featured over a thousand future NHLers (1,296 to be exact) and is a dream for many young hockey players in the United States, Canada and Europe.

Hockey greats like Wayne Gretzky, Guy Lafleur and Mario Lemieux, as well as current Flyers Joel Farebee, Kevin Hayes, Martin Jones, Keith Yandle, and Patrick Brown, have participated. Others still regret not getting the chance.

Thirty three years have passed, and former Flyer Danny Brière still remembers the tears he shed when he heard another team had passed his to earn the spot in the tournament. Meanwhile, former Flyer and current assistant coach Nick Schultz had the opportunity to go a few years ago as a coach with his son’s team. The two years spent coaching his son, and the tournament itself, helped spark Schultz’s interest in coaching professionally.

Brière’s sons also had the chance to go, but Brière, now an assistant to general manager Chuck Fletcher, was still playing at the time, so his parents took them instead. Both his sons and their grandparents helped translate for the Flyers families as they navigated French-speaking Quebec.

The tournament represents a special opportunity for young players to get to play in an NHL-sized arena in front of what are probably the biggest crowds they’ve ever seen, Ferrill said.

It’s also an important age in the kids’ development. Schultz said you can see that they’re just starting to realize their true love of the game and are starting to understand what being a good teammate means. Ferrill added that they’re willing to soak up lessons. Many won’t realize until many years later that they built the foundation for both their hockey skills and their character through these experiences.

“It’s 50 percent hockey, 50 percent person building,” Ferrill said.

The kids are also exposed to a different culture as they billet with local families. Coaches emphasize respect and open-mindedness as they interact with the families and the other teams.

Scuderi said he’s only ever played North American teams, and that he was super excited that their first game was against a team from Slovakia.

“I’ve learned a lot,” Scuderi said before he left. “I’ve learned how to respect other kids, how to treat other kids properly. And then how to treat other people that we’re going to be staying at’s houses and ... how their culture is.”

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Representing the big club

Beyond billeting, another huge part of the weekend is pin trading. The kids get 20 pins each to trade with players from other teams, and they can end up with pins from all around the world.

As this year’s youngsters hand out pins and wear their Flyers gear, they are representing the Flyers organization.

They got a taste of what that means when they stood on the bench for warmups for the Flyers’ season finale on April 29. They were the first fans since the pandemic to get to go on the bench, and the players came over excited to see them. Once the NHLers learned who the kids were, they were eager to send them off with stories of their own experiences and encouragement. This year, Farabee, a favorite among many of the local players, is on the pin.

“It’s such a cool tournament,” said Farabee. “The fans that go to it and the passion that the tournament brings is really special and it’s definitely something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

About 300 to 400 teams apply for the tournament, but only about 120 to 140 attend, so the Flyers have to submit an application every year. However, it’s mostly a formality at this point since the Flyers send a team every year. Not all the teams at the tournament are sponsored by a professional team, but about 16 to 20 NHL teams typically sponsor a Quebec team and some AHL teams also have representatives. Some, like the Colorado Avalanche, hold a tournament and the winner represents them. Other teams make it by winning a league, like the team that knocked out Brière’s.

The Flyers, Devils and Phantoms hold a tryout, run through USA Hockey, for kids in the region. They then take the best group and send the top half from the northeastern region to represent the Devils and the southwestern to represent the Flyers. The remaining players who qualify make up the Phantoms’ entry. The kids continue to play with their normal club teams while practicing with their respective Quebec team intermittently.

This year’s team, which is competing in the AAA tier, beat its Slovakian opposition, 9-1, in their opening game and Friday, beat the New England Prospects, 5-1, to improve to 2-0 on the tournament. The NHL team may be out of the playoffs, but those in the organization have enjoyed following these youngsters.

“I think it’s really cool,” Brière said. “They’re representing their favorite team in the area. And the Flyers, you know, some people hate them, some people love them. ... But they’re a very important figure in NHL circles, so to be represented there, I think is very appropriate, and it’s pretty special.”