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California kids’ hockey teams arrive for tournament without luggage, gear

“There were 22 people on our group flight and not a single piece of luggage came off the plane.”

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Two young hockey teams from California arrived in Ottawa on Monday to participate in the Bell Capital Cup, which starts Wednesday, only to find their luggage, which includes the gear they need to play, didn’t make it. 

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“There were 22 people on our group flight and not a single piece of luggage came off the plane,” said hockey mom Kathryn Fujihara, who arrived at the Ottawa International Airport with her son and the rest of the Orange County Hockey Club group on an Air Canada flight on Monday evening. She returned to the airport Tuesday with another team parent, Jamie Anol, in hopes of tracking down the missing bags. 

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The California moms cased the airport’s Arrivals area, checking out the dozens of pieces of luggage waiting to be claimed and pacing between the Air Canada service desk and the Oversize Baggage area. By noon Tuesday, just three hockey-stick bags had been recovered, including one belonging to another family from Orange County that hadn’t made it to Ottawa yet because their connecting flight was cancelled. 

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“So their sticks are here, but they’re stuck in Toronto because their flight was cancelled,” Fujihara said with some exasperation. “But their sticks are here? How did their sticks make it?” 

She also wondered how any flight could take off without its passengers’ luggage. “(Air Canada staff) say it happens often but I’ve been traveling for a long time and I don’t understand how you can have a flight with zero pieces of luggage on it,” she said. “It boggles my mind.”

While the parents weren’t too concerned about replacing the clothes and toiletries in their luggage, the hockey gear would be a financial challenge. “We can go to Walmart and buy clothes but hockey stuff is expensive,” Fujihara said, commending her son’s foresight in taking his skates in his carry-on luggage. He was one of the only players to do so. 

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The Bell Capital Cup has been widely considered one of the world’s top U10 and U13 (formerly atom and peewee) hockey tournaments, a celebration of the game that attracts teams from Canada, the United States and beyond. After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, this year’s edition starts Wednesday and runs to Dec. 31, with games scheduled at arenas throughout Ottawa, including Bells Sensplex, Richcraft Sensplex and Canadian Tire Centre. 

About 150 teams from across North America are registered this year, a number that’s lower than the usual 250 or so, said Mark Sluban, general manager of the tournament, attributing the slump to the pandemic. “COVID did put a damper on the passing of the baton between coaches,” he said, explaining that outgoing coaches often extol the virtues of the tournament to their incoming counterparts. “That didn’t happen this year so it put a dent on things, especially internationally.”

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About one-third of the teams are from outside the National Capital Region, he added, including teams from Maine, New Jersey and upstate New York. The California teams, who are travelling the furthest, have been raising funds for weeks to attend their first Canadian tournament. Many of the players have their parents and grandparents with them. 

Among the activities planned for the 22nd edition of the tournament are Wednesday’s opening ceremony, a featured Ottawa Senators game and pin-trading sessions ⁠— another disappointment because the California players’ pins are in their lost luggage. 

Sluban said this year is expected to be a rebuilding year for the tournament, which normally generates millions in economic impact for the city. “This year, we’re just trying to host the tournament, have a fun time and rebuild the hype,” he said.

The tournament games will be streamed, with Bell Sensplex and Richcraft Sensplex games available at Find Canadian Tire Centre games here.

The opening ceremony takes place at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Bell Sensplex.

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