Detroit Local 58’s 40-and-over team celebrates its championship at the Ontario Provincial Hockey Tournament.

Ottawa, Local 586 Business Manager John Bourke had a message for the coach of his local's hockey team when it finished in second at the IBEW's highest-level hockey tournament: Pretty good — but you can do better.

Coach Jamie Berlin, with head turned backwards, encourages a Local 58 team from behind the bench.
St. Catharines, Ontario, Local 303 celebrates winning the C Division title on the ice and in the locker room afterwards.

"Of course I told him that," said Bourke, who has played in the tournament in previous years. "Sharpen it up, buddy," Bourke said with a chuckle. "You're close but not good enough."

At many Canadian-based locals, and increasingly at U.S. locals, hockey is a big deal. That was on display in the Ontario Provincial Council Tournament — which is commonly called the IBEW hockey tournament — when it was hosted by Detroit Local 58 on April 13-16.

The action on the ice was spirited. So was the time away from it, with players and their friends and families celebrating brotherhood and what the sport and the IBEW mean in two nations.

"I think it's the camaraderie piece that's so important at the end of the day," St. Catharines, Ontario, Local 303 Business Manager Mark Cherney said. "Everyone is an electrician. We're coming together to play a sport we all know and love."

This was the 58th edition of the tournament, which is why Local 58 requested to host it. Originally for the construction locals in hockey-mad Ontario, which now total 11, the tournament has expanded its reach.

Now, locals from other Canadian provinces enter, and the tournament was held one year in Winnipeg, Manitoba. IBEW hockey also has made inroads into the United States. U.S. locals participating this year included Local 58; Toledo, Ohio, Local 8; Boston Local 103; and New York City Local 3, which used donations from its annual game against Long Island, N.Y., Local 25 to help pay for its travel to Detroit.

Detroit Local 17, the city's outside construction local, also had a team in this year's event. St. Louis Local 1 sent a team for the first time.

"This is like the Stanley Cup playoffs for the NHL," Bourke said.

It was the fourth time the tournament was held in the United States, and Local 58 made it a top-notch event. The games were played at a rink just outside the city, but players, fans and families stayed at the Marriott Hotel at GM Place downtown.

Speakers at a reception in Local 58's hall included former Detroit Red Wings player Mickey Redmond, a two-time 50-goal scorer who has been a Red Wings broadcaster for more than 40 years, and Darren McCarty, a four-time Stanley Cup winner for the team.

Redmond kept their attention with stories about playing with the great Gordie Howe. McCarty, who sported a red mohawk, told about the thrill of carrying the Cup around the ice and other stories from his colorful career.

The party continued long after that.

"It's the brotherhood within the Brotherhood," said Local 58 member Jamie Berlin, an inside wireman who coaches the local's hockey team. "We had more than 500 IBEW electricians in our city for a reason, and those people were pretty blown away. We were looking to showcase the city of Detroit and how far we've come in the last 15 to 20 years."

Berlin agreed with others that the competition on the ice was intense. But those competitive fires gave way to fellowship once the final horn sounded and the teams shook hands.

"You're competing against your brothers in other locals and other cities that do the same things you do on a daily basis," he said. "But you don't know them. You go out and compete against them and then you go out and have a beer."

The A class featured the highest-skilled players. Toronto Local 353 President Jodi Hill, who has played in the tournament several times and attended this year's event, said some A players have played at high levels of junior hockey in Canada.

Games are 40 minutes long instead of the 60 minutes in the NHL. No body checking is permitted. That lessens the chance of injury that can keep an electrician off the job.

"We all have to go back to work on Monday morning," Hill said. "We're not making a career out of this. You've got to take care of yourself."

Local 353 beat Local 586 by a 5-1 score in the title game.

"We had gone 22 years without winning that trophy, and now we've won it back-to-back," Hill said. "To be able to go to Detroit and win it again this year, I'm pretty happy with the guys."

Local 58 won the B and 40-and-over divisions. Local 303 won the C division title. There were 28 teams from 17 local unions across the competition.

Cherney noted that most of the Local 303 players are members of its NextGen Committee, an IBEW initiative that encourages members 35 and younger to become more active in the union and develop leadership skills.

"They're seeing that when you work together to achieve a goal like this, you learn to rely on each other," Cherney said. "It's like working together on a jobsite, where they'll now have a better ability to deliver for our partners and signatory contractors."

Next year's tournament will return to Canada, although just a few miles from Detroit. It will be hosted by Windsor, Ontario, Local 773, just across the Detroit River.

The tournament is a tradition for the Ontario locals, along with some in Quebec and the United States. But everyone involved said there's room for more locals, especially as hockey continues to grow in nontraditional areas for the sport.

"The guys take it very seriously," Bourke said. "But when I think back over all the years I've been involved, every single member tells me how much they enjoy the camaraderie of brothers and sisters getting together and playing. It's about the brotherhood and bringing members together."