The Abbotsford Hawks Bantam AAA team is set to host several top teams at the annual Dallas Saunders Memorial Tournament starting Saturday.

The Abbotsford Hawks Bantam AAA team is set to host several top teams at the annual Dallas Saunders Memorial Tournament starting Saturday.

Dallas Saunders Memorial Tournament returns

Annual Bantam AAA hockey event features 12 teams

It’s time, once again, for the Abbotsford Minor Hockey Association to honour the past and celebrate the present.

The annual Dallas Saunders Memorial Bantam Tournament returns to local rinks starting on Saturday, with 12 teams hitting the ice.

The tournament began out of a tragic incident on Jan. 21, 1996.

Saunders, at the time a star player with the Abbotsford Bantam AAA Hawks, went down to block a shot during a game against Coquitlam. The shot struck his chest, he collapsed and Saunders was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.

Since then, his number five has been retired by the AMHA, and the tournament has been named in his honour.

This year’s event sees the Hawks host teams from Arizona, Kamloops, Prince George and clubs from all over the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley.

Hawks head coach Peter Hay, a former teammate of Saunders, said the event is a big deal for his team.

“The Dallas Saunders tournament means a lot to me,” he said, noting he was in Grade 9 at the time of Saunders’ passing. “I always ask my teams to play extra hard in Dallas’s memory.”

The Hawks earned a silver medal at the Seafair Bantam Tier 1 tournament, and Hay said the team has a strong mix of players.

“The year has been filled with adversity but the Hawks have been able to maintain a .500 record beating anyone in the league when they are at their best,” he said. “The team has a solid group with outstanding goaltending, strong defence, and physical forwards. We are gearing up for a big playoff run and a great tournament this weekend.”

Abbotsford is slotted in a round robin group with Kamloops, Mission and North Vancouver. The Hawks open on Saturday at 11:30 am against Kamloops at MSA Arena, then later take on North Vancouver at 6:15 p.m. also at MSA Arena. They conclude the round robin on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. against Mission. Playoff games kick off on Sunday evening, and run until Monday. The gold medal game is slated to occur at 5 p.m. at MSA Arena. Several games occur at the Abbotsford Recreation Centre.

Opening ceremonies occur on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at MSA, with the presentation of the individual Dallas Saunders memorial trophy before Abbotsford’s game against North Vancouver. That trophy will be presented to the Hawks player who best exemplifies Saunders’ attributes.

Read Wednesday’s print edition of the Abbotsford News for a full recap from the event.