Each year, the Ontario Ball Hockey Association (OBHA) hosts a tournament where the best teams from Canada Clash against the best the US has to offer. The tournament is truly something to behold, as it invites the best of the best to face off. We spoke to Mauro Cugini, President of the OBHA, about how the CanAm tournament came to be, and what we can expect from the future of the tournament.
Stick Skillz: What is the concept behind the CanAm Tournament?
Mauro Cugini: There are many forms of our sport: 5v5, 4v4 and 3v3 throughout North America. This tournament brings all the best players together at one event of the ages. The tournament is central to many leagues down the East Coast and assists in the scouting for international tournaments.
SS: How did the CanAm championships come to fruition?
MC: The tournament is something that I have been working on for a few years, and now with partners in the United States of America in specific dek hockey markets and the many Quebec leagues which produce some of the finest players. With Bauer coming on board as a sponsor, they share the same vision to grow the game and this event ties into the shared philosophy.
SS: How long have you been involved in Ball Hockey?
MC: I began playing in Toronto in 1984 in the Northwest Toronto Ball Hockey League which ended in 1996. I then moved to working with leagues and the Ontario Ball Hockey Association (OBHA) offering clinics in ‘Learn to Play’ programs, introducing them to the sport in parking lots and gymnasiums throughout Ontario.
SS: What changes, whether good or bad, have you seen in the sport over the years?
MC: The good is simple, the growth of the sport through the 80’s and 90’s at all levels was incredible, which led to the start of the international game. With the growth came more opportunities for all of the players.
The bad is just as simple. The growth of the game in the past decade has allowed a few individuals to monopolize the sport and benefit financially without putting forth any work to grow the game. They feel an entitlement of their being involved in the sport.
SS: What is most exciting to you about the potential of the CanAm tournament?
MC: Having Bauer as a sponsor was a big move in 2016 and we look forward to other sponsors and partners coming on board to enhance the tournament for the players and their families.
SS: Where would you like to see the CanAm tournament go in the coming years?
MC: To continue to offer the event and get other groups throughout North America involved and to offer the opportunity to play. At present, we are offering four divisions of play, but the plan to offer three more divisions has already begun and more information will soon be announced.
SS: How does the level of competition at the CanAm compare to other major tournaments?
MC: The CanAm invites all-star teams to compete against each other so it is the highest level of competition in North America.
SS: Who would you say was and will be the toughest competitor out of the CanAm tournament this year?
MC: It is recognized that he best teams at the junior level of play (Under 19) all come from the Ontario Ball Hockey Association (OBHA). The OBHA teams and players are built from strong house league programs to their Provincial championship teams so playing at the highest level is not new to the players and teams. The United States of America and Quebec leagues would be the next group of teams that will challenge as seen at this year’s event and those teams will only continue to get better.
SS: Do you see any differences in play styles in teams from different provinces?
MC: The differences aren’t seen in locations, but rather in ball vs. dek hockey style. The dek hockey version of the game is much quicker and more offensive, thus you see how the ball hockey teams counter the offensive game.
SS: What do you think events like the CanAm championships do for the sport of ball hockey?
MC: The CanAm and events that host best on best competitions are always seen as positive for the game. You will always have the teams that talk a good game, but the challenge to those teams, be they youth or adult, is to show up and play and show everyone who is the best.
The tournament slogan is: you can talk the game…but can you play?
We’d like to thank Mauro for taking the time to answer our questions about the championships. The CanAm Tournament dates for 2018 have been announced, and the event is shaping up to be quite exciting. As Mauro pointed out, the tournament invites the best of the best, so you can expect the competition to be on fire during the next CanAm games. More information on the junior championships can be found here and on the men’s and women’s championships here.