CAMPBELLLVILLE, April 13 – It’s rare a day when you come to the racetrack and someone isn’t talking hockey.
Hockey is Canada, plan and simple.
When it comes to harness racing, it’s an important part of Canadian culture. The sport has deep roots in the foundation of our home and native land, with parts of the country having celebrated the sport for well over a century.
It comes as no surprise that the two sports have long been connected either through individuals with ties in both industries or by personal interest.
The racetrack is a competitive place, but it isn’t the only place that racing participants like to compete. Horsemen’s hockey tournaments have been held for decades and have long been an opportunity for racing’s participants to let loose and have a good time.
In recent years, the current version of the Horsemen’s Hockey Tournament has developed into a major event for those in the industry.
Jody Jamieson isn’t just a two-time World Driving Champion, he is also the co-host of the current Horsemen’s Hockey Tournament. Jamieson and Curtis MacDonald took over the tournament four years ago and have taken the event to new heights.
“This will be our fourth full year running the tournament,” Jamieson explained on a cool April morning at Mohawk. “The only reason we took over was because it didn’t look like there was going to be a tournament that year.”
Jamieson and MacDonald agreed that they needed to make adjustments to the format in order for the tournament to succeed. In previous editions, racing participants would form their own teams and enter in the tournament, but that didn’t set up for competitive games.
“In the 15 years that I’ve been playing, we’ve only won it twice and I believe that J.R. Plante’s team won it almost every other year,” Jamieson said. “It’s not an indictment against J.R and his team, he’s an amazing hockey player, probably the best horsemen’s hockey player ever, so it didn’t really matter who he put on his team.
“People were just getting tired of playing against J.R. and his team, so we tried to figure out a way that could make it fair and have more fun, because we weren’t even having fun.”
Jamieson gives full-marks to his co-host, MacDonald, for coming up with an idea that helped push new life into the tournament.
“We decided to have a player draft. Curtis came up with the idea and he’s a genius that comes up with great ideas all the time. The first time we did the draft, we did it at Crabby Joe’s in Cambridge and we literally had 40 something guys to pick from and we were like giddy little kids drafting players. It was so much fun and we thought we were onto something.”
The draft idea clearly sparked new energy into the Horsemen’s Hockey Tournament, as the player turnout has practically tripled since the new organizers took the reins.
“We had the first tournament that year and had five teams and an awesome time,” Jamieson recalls. “It was on a Wednesday that first year and the last three year’s now we’ve had it on Sundays.
“It’s just grown from there and it’s getting better all the time. Last year we had 122 players and it’s just a huge success.”
Jamieson and MacDonald create a strong build up to each year’s tournament, usually held in April, by having the player draft a week or two in advance of the tournament.
Jamieson believes the tournament offers everyone, from players to spectators, a chance to connect and mingle while enjoying a good outing.
“There are lots of people that don’t play hockey that come to this tournament just to watch and it’s a good place to meet people if you’re new here,” Jamieson said. “Louis Philippe Roy will be playing this year He’s a good card player, a good horse driver and a good goalie they tell me. He’ll get a chance to meet a lot more people from this tournament.”
The idea of the Horsemen’s Hockey Tournament isn’t to find out who the best hockey player is, although bragging rights are certainly up for grabs, but rather to allow the industry’s participants a chance to escape for a day.
“It’s so much about the experience,” Jamieson said. “We put aside all the stuff we think about everyday and the daily grind for an awesome day to get out and have some fun.”
A longtime Toronto Maple Leafs fan, Jamieson loves stepping onto the ice and mixing it up. While it is time consuming organizing each year’s tournament, he is proud of what he and MacDonald have established.
“It would be awesome for me to be just a player and experience all the stuff that Curtis and I have set up for everyone, but I also don’t feel that it can get done better if Curtis and I weren’t looking after it,” Jamieson admitted.
“To me it feels awesome to be part of because I see the joy on everyone’s face. Just to see all that it gives me a lot of satisfaction.”
This year’s Horsemen’s Hockey Tournament will take place on Sunday, April 30 at the Cambridge Sports Park. The cost to play in this year’s tournament is $50 and that fee guarantees a player three games, special dressing room items and lunch/dinner when your games are complete.
The player draft for this year’s tournament will take place on Sunday, April 16 at the Mohawk Inn and Conference centre.
Racing industry participants can sign up for the tournament by clicking here.