Not even the coronavirus pandemic could stop the long-running Colorado Springs Amateur Hockey Association (CSAHA) Presidents’ Day tournament from being held at a handful of ice arenas across the Pikes Peak Region last February, but because we’re talking hockey, it’s probably accurate to describe last year’s event as a team with a player in the penalty box: shorthanded.
But this year, you’ll once again hear those sticks banging on the boards to signal that clock running down. Yes, the 44th Presidents’ Day tournament, scheduled for February 18–21, is back at even strength, hosting teams from all over the United States and Canada. “We were lucky to have 60 (teams) last year, but this year, we’ll be back around that 100 number again,” says Neesha Lenzini, the fourth-year tournament director. “We were still able to hold it last year, and it went off very successfully and brought revenue to hotels and restaurants and to an industry that desperately needed that business.” This year is on track to be even better.
The event, hosted by the CSAHA, is the second-oldest hockey tournament in the United States and will stage games at The Broadmoor World Arena and Ice Hall, Cadet Ice Arena at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado College’s Ed Robson Arena, Sertich Ice Center, and Pueblo Plaza Ice Arena. All told, the area will grow by some 2,200 youth hockey players and their families and friends over the four-day weekend as local restaurants, hotels, and shops prepare for a well-needed bump, especially with the post-holidays slowdown some refer to as the “doldrums” that are now upon us.
“Presidents’ Day hockey is seriously one of our most valuable events that we have in our community,” says Cheryl McCullough, the senior director of sports and events for Visit Colorado Springs. “This tournament brings in about $2 million in economic impact, and it falls at a time of year when it’s not the destination’s high season. People are coming from all over, shopping, eating out, and filling up hotels. It’s a benefit to the community.”
Hockey Communities Unite
Bryce Wallnutt has fond memories of the Presidents’ Day Tournament. Born and raised in Colorado Springs, he counted back the years to when he first laced up his skates and took to the ice. “I started playing in this tournament 37 years ago,” says Wallnutt, now 45 and residing in the Houston area as a natural gas trader after a college hockey career at the University of Denver and four-year tour in the U.S. Army. “I played from the 10-and-under level all the way to the 18-year-old level. My family has a lot of history with the tournament. In addition to me, my brother played in it, and my parents volunteered quite a bit. We always had a lot of fun, and it was cool to see all the teams from all over the country.”
So, what’s a former player to do now? Of course, become a coach to the next generation—with three of his own children—on travel teams that will be on hand at this legendary tournament. “All of these dads played growing up, and now we’re coaching our kids,” says Wallnutt, who helped Palmer High School to consecutive state hockey championships in 1992–93. “We had such a great time last year, and Colorado Springs, to me, was the natural place to do one of our flyaways. Colorado is such a beautiful place, and a lot of my Houston kids got to see snow for the first time in a while. And, as far as the tournament goes, the association and parents put together a first-rate experience for everyone. We can’t wait to come back.”
With all his years in the game and friends made over those years, the reunions will be many. “The Colorado Springs hockey community is still relatively small,” Wallnutt says. “It’s funny who you see and who you bump into each time you come back.”
Join in the Experience
Taking in the tradition of the Presidents’ Day Tournament has never been easier. No parking woes. No long lines to get to your seat. And, even better, no outrageous ticket prices.
“It’s actually great for the community. If you want to watch hockey, it’s free,” Lenzini says. “With seven rinks, you can literally find a game somewhere at pretty much any time. Check in with the rink director and say you want to watch some hockey.”
You might encounter Lenzini or one of the many volunteer and staff members who work behind the scenes to help keep this tournament a well-oiled machine. “My days during the tournament start around 5 a.m. and don’t end until well after midnight,” Lenzini says. “I start to resemble a zombie a little bit, but it’s well worth it. I have so much fun with people.”
For more information visit the event’s official website: tigershockey.org/pdtinfo.Schedules and bracket charts are updated daily.