Calgary Northwest Flames captain Aidan LaRose isn’t the only one who may find themselves tongue-tied as Calgary’s legendary U18 AAA hockey tournament prepares to return to the ice.
“I think we have a really good shot going into the Mac’s — oh, Circle K!”
The new name may take some getting used to, but the sentiment is the same.
“I think our biggest goal this year is to take it all in,” LaRose added. “I think the experience is just as cool as winning it.”
The Circle K Classic, formerly known as the Mac’s Hockey Tournament, is coming in hot with the biggest field in the tournament’s 44-year history.
Thirty-two teams from Canada, the United States and Europe will duke it out for U18 AAA supremacy over 76 games.
Local players like LaRose got a taste of the tournament with the Mac’s reboot back in April, but are looking forward to getting another shot.
“Growing up watching the Mac’s, I’d go to it all the time with my dad,” LaRose recalled. “I remember actually watching team Hungary play… So now it’s even cooler being in it and playing against them.”
The expanded roster also promises more meaningful hockey.
Teams that don’t make it out of their initial pool will still have a shot at the ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ division titles, another holdover from the rejigged April event.
“The teams said, ‘Hey, now I’m not playing for the title. But I still go to the ‘D’ final, the ‘C’ final,’ which has them playing longer and it kind of makes their trip to Calgary,” Circle K Classic general manager Jesse Hale said. “If they’re paying $50,000 to come from Connecticut, let’s play more than three games, meaningful games.”
For the second year, the tournament will also feature academy teams like Calgary’s Edge School and the defending champion South Alberta Hockey Academy.
“(SAHA) were actually a late addition. They weren’t even the team that most people would have put their money on,” Hale said. “I think it just shows the parity of all the leagues and all the different countries and states. Ontario, we’ll see how they fare as well. Then Hungary is a real wildcard- we don’t know what we’re going to see.”
The Calgary Buffaloes will undoubtedly have a target on their backs entering the tournament.
The AEHL powerhouse leads the leads with a sparking 16-0-1-1 record.
Captain Lucas Magowan hopes to follow in some family skate tracks.
“I got to watch my brother playing in it before, so I grew up around it,” Magowan said. “He was on the team that won that one (2019) here, so super cool to be around that.”
Games will take place at Max Bell Arena and the Seven Chiefs Sportsplex on Tsuut’ina Nation.
The Circle K Classic runs from Dec. 27, 2022, to Jan. 1, 2023.