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Sanford Center to host Islanders Cup tourneys this weekend

BEMIDJI -- The Sanford Center is scheduled to host three four-team youth hockey tournaments this weekend. Members of the teams are age nine to 14 and come from all across northern Minnesota and North Dakota.

“Shane Mattfield and I decided to do this,” tournament co-founder Chris Justice said. “There’s so many of these little teams that are always traveling to the Twin Cities, so we thought it would be a great idea to kind of head all those teams off that are coming from Grand Forks, Roseau, Warroad, Thief River, to make this a destination.”

The three tournaments are separated by birth year, with one tournament for each of the 2004-, 2007- and 2008-born players. Justice coaches the 2004 Jr. Islanders, which is made up of several Bemidji players, as well as players from East Grand Forks, Thief River Falls, Moorhead, Grand Rapids and Little Falls.

“Typically these teams that are coming into Bemidji this weekend usually play in the neighborhood of three to five tournaments in the spring,” Justice said. “We chose this date to get opportunities for the people with moms and dads to also have the chance to see Bemidji and maybe do some fishing and golfing or whatever and kind of showcase and be the pinnacle of the spring season.”

This is the third year of the event. Admission to the Sanford Center will be free of charge, and concessions will be offered.

The action starts with a 2004 morning matchup at 9 a.m. Friday, May 18, between the Hornets and Junior Islanders.

Each tournament begins with round-robin play with each team playing the other three, and that will determine the seedings for the championship and third-place games.

“We’re one of three tournaments up in northern Minnesota that play at a Division I rink,” Justice said. “There’s one at the Ralph Engelstad, there’s this one at the Sanford Center and there’s one over in Duluth at the AMSOIL, which is huge. The kids dream of playing college hockey, and to get the opportunity to walk through the hallways and sit in the locker rooms and come out on the ice with the big lights, that’s a huge thing.”