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Wickenheiser shifts hockey festival from B.C. to Calgary

The Canadian Press

3/20/2013 12:23:28 PM

CALGARY -- Hayley Wickenheiser is moving her international women's hockey festival to Calgary after three years in Burnaby, B.C.

The captain and all-time leading scorer of the Canadian women's hockey team says an offer from WinSport to use their new facilities at Canada Olympic Park, as well as a decrease in sponsorship dollars in Burnaby, prompted the move.

"Financially, it was really tough to stay in Burnaby," Wickenheiser said. "It's tough to raise sponsorship dollars.

"Just the connections and access here in Calgary was a really big reason and just being able to move it into a state-of-the-art world-class facility, it is exactly what we want to do with aligning the festival."

Wickenheiser held her first festival in Burnaby in November, 2010, in the wake of the Winter Olympics in nearby Vancouver. The five-time Olympian said she wanted to boost the level of girls hockey in the province.

The event expanded from 54 teams in its inaugural year to 70 last year.

In addition to tournaments Novice, Atom, Pee Wee, Bantam and Midget clubs, "WickFest" includes skills clinics and off-ice seminars on nutrition, strength and conditioning and how to prepare for college and university hockey.

While the event was heavy on B.C. lower mainland teams while in Burnaby, a Czech team, the Mexican national women's team and some U.S. squads have attended the previous three years.

"We weren't dead set on staying one location for a long time," Wickenheiser said.

"Another reason for coming a little bit more east is we're hoping to get Saskatchewan, Ontario, more American teams. Next year we definitely have a Finnish team coming. We're hoping to have the Mexican team back.

"It lends itself to a little bit easier access to people coming from around the world."

WinSport, which oversees the legacy of the 1988 Winter Olympics in the city, is putting the finishing touches on a winter sport institute at Canada Olympic Park.

The facility includes three NHL-sized rinks and an Olympic-sized ice surface.

Wickenheiser says outgoing WinSport chief executive officer Dan O'Neill extended an invitation to hold her festival there in November.

Wickenheiser lives in Calgary and will train full time at COP next winter with the women's team in preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

But the 34-year-old from Shaunavon, Sask., says that wasn't a primary reason for relocating the women's hockey event in her name.

"That was way down the list," she said. "I wish we could have stayed in Vancouver. I really did. I thought we were doing a great thing for women's hockey there.

"If I had $100,000 more a year to put into it, we could have. The dollars were getting too tight. It's already become easier (in Calgary)."