One of Canada's oldest and most prestigious hockey tournaments is set to go in Steinbach.
The 101st Allan Cup, symbolic of senior hockey supremacy in this country, begins tomorrow afternoon at 4 p.m. when the Grunthal-based South East Prairie Thunder take on the Lloydminster (Sask.) Border Kings at T.G. Smith Centre.
The six-team tournament, which also features the Bentley (Alta.) Generals, Dundas (Ont.) Real McCoys, Thunder Bay Twins and the host Steinbach North Stars, wraps up with the championship match on Saturday at 3 p.m.
Roger St. Laurent is the GM of the host North Stars and also helped bring the event to Steinbach, which represents the tournament's first stop in Manitoba in 41 years. He said the southeastern part of the province is getting excited for the tournament and the rest of Manitoba should as well.
"Ticket sales are going really well, and there's a lot of hype," St. Laurent said. "I've been involved with the Allan Cup now for about 14 years, and I always wanted to host it. It was always in the back of my mind. I didn't think we could.
"We were based in Ile des Chenes before, so our town of 1,000 people obviously can't hold a national championship, but we moved to Steinbach two years ago and the town has supported it and they enjoy senior hockey.
"It's going to be exciting for the town and the province, for that matter."
There are 10 former NHLers in the event -- and one ex-NHL coach in Bentley boss Brian Sutter -- but the biggest name is former Calgary Flames star Theoren Fleury.
The Russell native is suiting up for the North Stars, and St. Laurent is hopeful the sniper will make a significant impact. Over the past few months the 40-year-old travelled from his Calgary home every two weeks to play exhibition games and practise with the team.
"He got himself in really good shape for this, which is exciting," St. Laurent said. "He worked out really hard to get himself in shape to play at this level, and he wants to win it. I can tell in his voice. It's not just another thing that he's going through."
Steinbach was also hoping to have former NHL defenceman Greg Hawgood in its lineup, but a last-minute job commitment in Alberta will prevent him from playing.
The Prairie Thunder, formerly known as the Grunthal Redwings, are in the Allan Cup for the first time after beating the Selkirk Rivermen in the Manitoba final. General manager Marv Kornelsen said Grunthal is pumped for the tournament, which is in their own back yard.
"It's exciting," he said. "It would be nice if we could meet the other Manitoba team in the playoffs or in the final.
"Besides AHL level, it's probably the best hockey you'll see in Manitoba. There are lots of ex-pros, and the hockey will be good."
Ticket packages are available for purchase at allancup2009.ca. Individual tickets go on sale at noon on Monday.
HISTORY LESSON: The last time the Allan Cup was awarded on Manitoba soil was in 1968, when the Victoriaville (Que.) Tigres, representing eastern Canada, beat the St. Boniface Mohawks, the west reps, in a best-of-seven series. The tournament switched to a round-robin affair in 1992 ... Manitoba teams have won 10 Allan Cups. They are: Winnipeg Victorias (1911, 1912), Winnipeg Hockey Club (1913, 1931), Winnipeg Monarchs (1915), Winnipeg 61st Battalion (1916), Winnipeg Falcons (1920), University of Manitoba (1928), Winnipeg Maroons (1964) and Ile des Chenes North Stars (2003).