Each year, teams from Lancaster and teams from
Kitchener play each other in the Friendship Tournament.
The tournament was the idea of two men who happened to be traveling on the same plane together 30 years ago. John Beith from Kitchener and Paul Pelland from Lancaster got to talking about fostering fellowship and good will between young hockey players in the U.S. and Canada. Their idea grew into the Friendship Tournament.
Seventy-four skaters from the Lancaster area representing Lancaster Ice Hockey's Mite Division (seven- and eight-year olds), the Squirt Minor (10-year-olds) and Squirt Major (11-year-olds), the Pee Wee Division (11-to 13-year olds), and the Bantam Division (14 and 15-year olds).
The Kitchener teams come to Lancaster during the first week of February for three games. Then the Lancaster teams travel up to Kitchener the last week of February for the next three games of the six-game set.
This year marks the third time Jesse Boughter , 11 1/2 of Honey Brook, a sixth-grader at Twin Valley Middle School, has laced up his skates to skate in this international competition. He plays forward for the Lancaster Firebirds of the Pee Wee Division (ages 11-13).
"It's neat," says the soft-spoken and thoughtful skater who stands 4' 6" and weighs 75 pounds and likes to play center for the Firebirds. "I get to see different states, Niagara Falls, and different cities in Canada, and go into a whole different country."
"They talk a little different than we do," he adds with a smile.
He considers himself a "pretty good skater," but at 4'6", "I'm always the shortest player on the team."
In fact, his mother Julie, known for her cowbell at the Firebirds' games, recalls one face-off last year up in Kitchener when Jesse went up against a Canadian youth who towered over him. "People started yelling, 'Jesse, go
under him,'" she laughs.
His height notwithstanding, Jesse skates with a good amount of speed, but
doesn't consider himself a finesse skater like Simon Gagne of the Philadelphia Flyers. "I go fast to dig in the corners," he says of his
playing style. This year for the Firebirds, he scored eight goals and had 16 assists during their 14-game season.
He and his teammates from the Lancaster area face a more intense style of youth hockey when they skate against the "boys from Kitchener."
"They take their hockey seriously," explains Julie, Jesse's mom. "Here in our area, there are three rinks, 30 minutes away in Lancaster, Reading, and West Chester. There are 18 rinks in the Kitchener area, and they say that's not enough."
While the skaters from Lancaster go into the Friendship Tournament on a participating basis, the Kitchener teams are chosen from a select league.
"They're really good, says Julie. "They're chosen on how good they are, and
hey are really tall."
But skill and size didn't stop Lancaster last year. They took four out of six games from the Canadians. This year, Canada leads the series with a 2-0-1 record.
However, the objective of the tournament is to help enhance respect and
good will. When the "road" team plays at the other country's rink, all the players "billet" or stay with families of the "home" team. The moms and dads who travel with the team stay at a hotel.
For example, Jesse is staying with Bobby Hergott and his family in
Kitchener. According to Julie Boughter, both guys have "a lot in common other than ice hockey. They both love PS2, skateboarding, basketball, and just hanging out with friends."
"It's hard to explain unless you're there," she says of this tournament
experience. "During the games, they're all hockey. The second the game is
over, they shake hands at center ice, and as soon as they're off the ice and out of their gear, they're friends."
She adds that the tournament provides the opportunity to build mutual
respect and lasting friendships.
When the Boughters are in Kitchener, they will be staying with the Milani
family whom they first met three years ago when Jesse stayed with them during his first tournament. Their son, Darren is not in this year's tournament as he has moved up to travel team status in Kitchener, but both families maintain close friendships.
Jesse, who has been skating since he was four years old, likes playing center because "you can play defense and center." When he wins a face off,
he draws the puck back and tries to get it down ice either to a wing or into the offensive zone. Once down-ice, he says, "If I have a clear shot, I'll try to shoot for the corner of the net or I'll pass it (the puck) over to a wing and he'll try to score, too."
He adjusts his approach to the net depending on whether the goalie stands
up or flops down on the shot. "We really want to win," Jesse says of the tournament competition, "but, like my mom says, it doesn't really matter if we win or lose. It's a friendship game."