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USA national hockey tournament coming to Green Bay

By Greg Bates

BROWN COUNTY – Green Bay will once again get to show the country it’s not only a football city.

For the sixth time in the last 12 years, USA Hockey selected the Green Bay area to host a portion of its national tournament.

Green Bay will welcome in Youth Tier II 18-and-under teams for the 2021 Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships from April 29-May 3.

Games will be played at the Cornerstone Community Center in Ashwaubenon and the De Pere Ice Arena.

“After a pandemic and a Packers season with no home fans, the City of Green Bay is more than happy to be hosting this year,” said Don Chilson, the longtime manager of the Cornerstone Community Center.

USA Hockey enjoys coming to Green Bay for several reasons.

“Don is probably the start and main reason,” USA Hockey National Tournament Chair T.C. Lewis said. “It comes down to the rink and the host – sometimes that’s one in the same or sometimes that’s a local association and a rink working together. Because Don is accommodating, it makes it easier for us. We know it’s going to come off well, and that’s a big deal. You worry about going to a new place – you want to spread it around, but at the same time, you feel lots more comfortable if they’ve done it before. If they’ve done it well, we want to go there again.”

Another big draw for Green Bay is that Cornerstone has three sheets of ice with plenty of seating for two of those sheets.

“Everything is in a tight area, so you’re not traveling 30 minutes to get to different rinks,” Lewis said. “The airport is close. Kids can go see Lambeau Field – that’s certainly a neat draw. The USHL (Green Bay Gamblers) team is also there. If we can showcase junior hockey, that’s neat. Green Bay is unique because of the community feel. You feel the whole community is embracing it. We can go to Dallas, Los Angeles or New York, and we’re one of many things going on. We can go to Dallas and get Olive Garden catered and all the chains, but when you go to Green Bay, they’re making us homemade food.”

Green Bay hosted nationals in 2010, ’12, ’14, ’15 and ’18.

Because teams travel from all over the country for the five-day tournament, the economic impact on Green Bay and its surrounding areas is enormous.

“The community is anxious,” Chilson said. “We had no spectators for the Packers season until the last couple games of the year and hotels and restaurants have been hurting. We’ve had an unbelievable response to advertising in our program, and people are anxious to try and tap into whatever they can right now.”

Green Bay was scheduled to host the 2020 Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tournament was canceled.

Lewis said it was important for USA Hockey and its members to not miss nationals in back-to-back years.

This year’s tournament was pushed back four weeks in the hopes COVID-19 numbers would be diminishing around the country.

“You always wonder, ‘Are we doing the right thing?’” Lewis said. “We think we’re doing it safely, and the customers want this. We haven’t had a single team back out because of COVID concerns. This is good for the mental state of these kids. It’s important for them to compete, stay active and be part of a team, even if there are restrictions.”

For the most part, USA Hockey is defaulting to local restrictions on masks and safety procedures, which means everyone inside the buildings must wear masks.

There will be hand sanitizing stations at every entrance and areas such as locker rooms and benches will be wiped down between games.

“People are going to have to use common sense when they come,” Chilson said. “Some of the rinks seat 2,000 people, and social distancing won’t be a problem. People are going to have to pay attention when they’re in some of the rinks that have less seating than the two big rinks.”

There will be a “15 in, 15 out” policy where players and spectators won’t be allowed inside the building until 15 minutes before the puck dropping and should leave the building 15 minutes after the game.

Spectators shouldn’t get to the rink too early because they won’t be able to gain entry.

“The games at the Cornerstone, we’ll be able to accept as many spectators that show up, because there’s plenty of room in those rinks,” Chilson said. “We are still limited to 25 percent capacity at the De Pere Ice Arena, so those games we’ll be restricting spectators. If you’re showing up for a game, I would show up for games at the Cornerstone. I wouldn’t necessarily go to the De Pere Ice Arena, as you might get turned away there.”

What spectators can expect

Three Tier II 18-and-under divisions are competing for national titles in Green Bay.

Division 3A will have 16 teams, and 2A and 1A will have eight teams apiece.

All three boys’ divisions will get underway April 29, and the championship games will be May 3.

The 2A title is scheduled to start at 8:45 a.m., the 1A at 10 a.m. and the 3A at 11:15 a.m.

Two Wisconsin teams will be competing – the host team Green Bay Bobcats and Janesville Jets – both in 3A.

Tier II hockey should provide spectators with good competition.

It might be the last hockey game for some players and for others a chance to show they can play in juniors or college.

“You’ll see fast-paced hockey,” Lewis said. “Tier II hockey is good hockey. It’s not Tier I, but in some cases, it’s better than Tier I. If you compare a high-level Tier II to a lower-ranked Tier I, the hockey is good. The competition level of these kids is good, and they want to play hard.”

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