The Boys of Summer
Where can you see NHL stars face-off against the WHL’s first player with exceptional status in the middle of summer? Only at the Boys of Summer charity tournament in British Columbia.
Many fans of the sport of hockey have heard of Da Beauty League, a summer charity hockey league that runs out of Minnesota. Fewer are aware of a similar league that runs out of BC.
I had the opportunity to speak with Boys of Summer Hockey League founder, Jonathan Calvano about what he and the Boys of Summer have been doing.
Unfortunately, this year’s tournament has already taken place but, you can still look forward to the third annual event slated to take place next summer.
Who are the Boys of Summer?
WHL alumni have been among those leading the way in this event. There are more than a few familiar names who have participated. Mathew Barzal (Seattle ’12-’17), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Red Deer ’08-’11), Milan Lucic (Vancouver ’04-’07), Nic Petan (Portland ’10-’15), Brenden Dillon (Seattle ’07-’11), Morgan Reilly (Moose Jaw ’10-’13), Colton Scissons (Kelowna ’10-’13), Jujhar Khaira (Everett ’13-14), Jake Virtanen (Calgary ’11-’15), and Martin Jones (Calgary ’06-’10) have all taken part.
Among those to have taken the ice with the big NHL names are other recognizable WHL alumni and current players such as Connor Levis (Kamloops), Mats Lindgren (Kamloops), Justin Sourdif (Vancouver), Ty Ronning (Vancouver’ 13-’18), Brendan Ranford (Kamloops ’07- ’13), and Landon Ferraro (Red Deer and Everett ’06-’11).
Even some of the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft picks have taken part. Zach Benson (Winnipeg Rd 1 #14), Kaden Hammell (Kamloops, Rd 1 #19), Andrew Cristall (Kelowna, Rd 1 #8), and yes, the first WHL player to be granted exceptional status, Connor Bedard (Regina, Rd 1 #1) have all participated in the event.
The Boys’ beginning
Following the loss of their father, Nic and Alex Petan began the Annual Petan Invitational in 2018, a charity golf tournament for mental health. This sparked a conversation about what could be done to help on the ice as well.
“I guess how it started was a lot of the of players in Vancouver, pro guys and ex-WHL alumni that are playing pro and current players, you know it’s a small community in Vancouver, and they train together quite often in the summer. We skate the guys together, and for a few years, we’ve always talked about how we get them involved in the community, maybe raise some money for charity.”
Calvano had been following Da Beauty League, and after conversations of doing a similar event in the BC area had been floating around for a while, 2019 became the year when he put conversation to action. He rented the ice, set a schedule, organized the guys into teams, ordered jerseys, and came up with the name “Boys of Summer”.
“I mean it was kind of catchy, it’s summer hockey, you know most NHL players you call them the boys, and it’s just kind of west coast. We’re Vancouver, and it just kind of happened”
The first year
The idea was to start the event small to keep from setting unattainable expectations. With four teams in place, the event stayed manageable from an organizational standpoint. Small enough that not many people knew about it, but with enough promotion to get the ball rolling. Support showed up from places such as RBC and Tim Wong at their Wealth Management section.
Fans in the area who wanted to watch these games were encouraged to donate, with the money raised going to mental health and cystic fibrosis charities.
When asked about the intensity level in the games, Calvano had this to say, “Even though it’s 4-on-4, you see the skill and you know puck possession and creativity that you know these kids obviously are playing at that high level why they are.”
“It’s a game, you know like we have refs keep score, there’s two 25 minute periods there’s 9 players per team they’re on that team for the six games and, you know, we accumulate scores and try to have an overall winner at the end. You play everybody once, so if your team scores 105 goals in 6 games, that’s how we’re doing the standings. There’s no playoff format this year or anything. There’s penalties, penalty shots, there’s offsides, so it’s pretty intense. You know they’re obviously -competitive- like I said the older guys don’t want to be shown up by the younger guys. The younger guys gotta keep up to the older guys.”
It seems like both sides would have a lot of keeping up to do when the standings are based on the number of goals scored, but the BC coach had a simple reminder:
“When they’re out there, age doesn’t seem to be an issue.”
You see that in the NHL, you see that in the WHL, and you can see that with the Boys of Summer.
This year’s event
Due to the pandemic, the Boys of Summer event almost didn’t happen this year. Nobody could have blamed the guys for pausing until next summer. However, according to Calvano, a few of the players who were not on playoff teams came forward in July and wanted a way to prepare for their respective seasons, some in the WHL, some in Europe, and some getting ready for whenever camps may start. Calvano and the available players held the Second Annual Boys of Summer in August, with the event beginning on the 10th.
There were 8 teams of 9 players, impressive considering there were a number of previous participants who were in one of the two NHL bubbles at the time.
Aside from the participants, Calvano pointed out one change in scenery from last year’s event, no spectators. Without spectators being able to walk up and donate, there was one significant change from last year.
“The players all paid to play knowing that part of their fees were going to the expenses to run it and part of it goes to the charity. They understand that we can’t have anybody (spectators), and we’re limited to the amount of people allowed in, so you know they’re actually doing a good cause as well because they’re actually donating some of their own money to the charity,”
Speaking of the charity, the receiving organization changes each year but the theme has been to keep it close to the players, basing the decision on what they, or their families, have been going through. This year the funds went to the BC Family Hearing Resource Society.
The future of the Boys of Summer
The First and Second Annual Boys of Summer have taken place at Planet Ice Coquitlam but keep an eye out for the event to take place at a possible new venue in 2021.
As of right now, the Boys of Summer website has not launched to the public, but the hope is to have it set up ahead of the 2021 event. You can follow the Boys of Summer on Instagram to see more from the first two events and to keep up with what is to come! The goal is for Boys of Summer to serve the community and provide players with positive summer training, while also allowing for a bit of mentorship to younger players.
“I mean like honestly, that’s our goal and you know different charities. We’re donating as much as we possibly can and every we know every bit helps and I think it allows the players that are playing in it to feel that they’re also playing for a cause and you know, versus just themself.
Last year was great because all the players were really good at like with the young kids you know, like Milan Lucic and Martin Jones, they were all really good when the kids were asking to take pictures and sign autographs, they were total fine with it, really good and welcoming to the kids that were there watching. That’s still kinda what it’s about right?
You know obviously being from Vancouver, you know our demographic is so widespread in the hockey community so you know it definitely is a sport for everybody to participate in and you know in the players we have playing like, you know, definitely a multi-cultural game.”