The participants from all countries at the Friendship PeeWee International Ice Hockey Tournament in Cranbrook, 1993. Photo by Brian Clarkson

The participants from all countries at the Friendship PeeWee International Ice Hockey Tournament in Cranbrook, 1993. Photo by Brian Clarkson

How hockey unites the world

32 years after the launch of the Friendship PeeWee International Ice Hockey Tournament, Cranbrook remembers its late founder

There have been many individuals who over the years have helped form Cranbrook’s reputation as a “hockey town.” One of the most notable of these created an international venue for Cranbrook’s young hockey players to experience, and used hockey to make the world a smaller place.

Tadakiyo Kaneiri passed away in Hachinohe, Japan, on December 30, 2021. He was 84.

As the founder of the Friendship PeeWee International Ice Hockey Tournament, Mr. Kaneiri had a huge influence and renown in Cranbrook over the past 30 years.

“Mr. Kaneiri’s vision was to bring young people together using hockey as the vehicle,” said Ken Skerik. “Friendship, fair play and fighting spirit was his motto.”

In 1989 Kaneiri was instrumental in founding the Friendship Pee Wee Ice Hockey tournament in Hachinohe, for which Cranbrook was chosen as Canada’s representative. The tournament has been held somewhere in the world every two years since, except for last year.

Cranbrook has attended every tournament since the start, going to Japan, the U.S., New Zealand, and Australia. Cranbrook itself hosted the tournament in 1993 and 2005.

Mr. Kaneiri was born October 8, 1937, in Hachinohe Japan. He graduated from Hachinohe High School in 1956 and then graduated from Waseda University in Tokyo in 1961. It was at Waseda that he started to play hockey and was a varsity member of the college hockey team.

In 1973 the Hachinohe White Bear Junior Ice Hockey team was established and he was part of the original coaching staff. He was still active with the team when he died Dec. 30.

In 1989, Ken Skerik was President of Cranbrook Minor Hockey, which was one of five hockey associations which applied to be part of the new tournament.

“The invitation was sent out to the B.C. amateur hockey association at that time,” Skerik said. “Cranbrook had just won the Pee Wee provincial championship, and had also won the association of the year award for the second year in a row. So I think that’s how we were chosen.”

Cranbrook Minor Hockey picked the coaching staff for the inaugural team. Colin Patterson was the first head coach. Eventual Stanley Cup winner Brad Lukowich was one of the players on that first team.

“Lots of kids applied,” Patterson said of that first team. “The teams were — and are — selected by lottery, with the names of those interested going into a hat, then drawn at random.”

Patterson said that once the applicants were separated into their various positions, the chances were fairly equal that any name could be drawn. The player whose name was drawn would be the one to draw the next name.

The PeeWee players (13 years old), then and now, came from both the house hockey leagues and rep hockey leagues.

The billeting of the young players was and is an essential part of the tournament experience — an experience that can be an eye-opener for both hosts and guests. Along with this heightened cultural awareness and understanding comes an easy capacity for friendship — as the tournament name suggests.

“I remember riding a bus in St. Paul Minnesota with players from Cranbrook, Japan, South Korea and Germany,” Skerik said. “You would’ve never known there was a language barrier.”

Tadakiyo Kaneiri (left), founder of the Friendship PeeWee International Ice Hockey Tournament, and Ken Skerit, at the Cranbrook tournament in 1993.

Pictured: Tadakiyo Kaneiri and Ken Skerik in Cranbrook, during the 1993 Friendship PeeWee International Ice Hockey Tournament

This is a young age for these players to be achieving what is a lifelong dream for many athletes — playing on an international stage. Not just representing your team, or your town, but your country. The players take this privilege very seriously.

“I told them, ‘you’re representing your family, Cranbrook, your country — act like it,’” said Dave Hall, who helped organize the Cranbrook tournaments, and went with the team down to Minnesota in 2003. “There was never any problem.”

The first tournament comprised what’s now know as “The Original Six:” Cranbrook; St. Paul, Minnesota; Hachinohe, Japan; Tomakomai, Japan; Berlin, Germany, and South Korea. Teams from New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, and Hudson, Minnesota, have since taken part.

Cranbrook first hosted the tournament in 1993 , which was the largest of them all. Teams from all over the region wanted to take part, and were invited as guests — from Kimberley (which helped host the games), Creston, the Elk Valley, even southern Alberta.

But there’s a lot more to the tournament — this gathering of a global community — than just hockey.

For example, every team has to take a night to put on a skit, that shows the uniqueness of their culture. Every team also contributes to an auction night, as a fundraiser that helps with tournament costs.

These activities are part of the competition, such as it is. The tournament winner isn’t decided on wins alone, but according to a point system that takes all these activities into account. Kimberley, for instance, won the 2005 tournament in Cranbrook largely on the strength of their skit.

As Tadakiyo Kaneiri intended, the Friendship PeeWee International Ice Hockey Tournament is a shining example of how sport can bring the world closer together. The New Zealand team is made up from players from all over that country. Skerik said that when the tournament was held there in 1995, games were played in every town that had sent a player to the team. This includes Dunedin, New Zealand, home of the southernmost hockey arena in the world.

Team Cranbrook also brought along boxes of used hockey equipment to donate to New Zealand hockey programs.

And Scott Niedermayer, who’d won the Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils that year, came along as an ambassador, dropping the ceremonial puck to start the tournament.

When the tournament has been held in Cranbrook (and another turn is coming up soon), the community has shown it wants to get involved. Cities donate the ice time. Businesses take part with sponsorships. And, of course, a large cadre of local volunteers is needed to pull the tournaments off.

But the Friendship Hockey Tournament still needs help — especially in these pandemic-ridden times. The future is still ahead. The 2021 tournament had to be cancelled. And it appears the next tournament, set for Hudson, Minnesota, in 2023, will likely be cancelled as well, meaning that the players selected for the team will have aged out.

But the future is still ahead, and Cranbrook was, and is, very much part of the hockey world Tadakiyo Kaneiri brought into being. He attended every one of the Friendship Hockey Tournaments, including the two held in Cranbrook. He got to know the community and the organizers well

“I did know Mr Kaneiri personally,” Skerik said. “He will be remembered by a lot of people.

“The friendships made from both players and coaching staff is probably the legacy. I know I’ve talked with players over the years and they never say much about the hockey played but rather the experiences they shared while with billet families.”