Every February, Phoenix becomes youth hockey's ultimate destination.
It's the setting for the biggest Presidents' Day weekend hockey tournament in the United States.
The Annual Phoenix Presidents' Day Invitational tournament, now in its 19th year of operation, provides a four-day weekend packed with head-to-head competition for kids spanning ages 10-18 at every skill level.
The tournament ices a total of 180 teams from all over North America, stretching as far as Atlanta, Georgia and Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories of Canada, all competing at the seven ice rink facilities in the greater Valley, including Gila River Arena.
180 teams, and there's a waitlist, too. Who wouldn't love a hockey escape with blue skies and sunshine this time of year? For some, hockey, blue skies and sunshine in a collective environment this time of year is atypical.
"All of these kids and their families from other markets, maybe they're real traditional hockey markets that don't think of hockey in the desert or hockey in Phoenix," saidJon Shivener, who's in his fifth season as the Supervisor of Amateur Hockey Events and Business Development for the Coyotes. "Then they come here and see how big this tournament is, they see all the facilities we have, and how popular it is. I think that opens a lot of eyes to hockey out here, hockey in the state of Arizona."
Shivener, who helps with planning the tournament's logistics noted that with more ice availability, the tournament could easily host more than 200 teams due to the high demand.
More than 50 of the out-of-state teams participating in this year's tournament attended Saturday night's Coyotes game against the Washington Capitals, a total of nearly 2,000 seats of the sport's next generation included in what was the team's eighth sellout of the season, a capacity-plus crowd of 17,139.
There are multiple prongs to the impact the tournament has on the greater Valley, the sport, and hockey's future.
There is, without a doubt, a strong economic boost provided to the city, estimated to be in the multi-million-dollar range.
"We're talking the flights, the hotels, the restaurants, the ticket spending for the Coyotes game and everything else the families spend while here," said Shivener. "The ice time, the team bonding activities, it's a little bit of everything, the players and their families can treat it just as much a vacation as they do a hockey tournament."
Then, of course, there's the experience of playing at an NHL facility, Gila River Arena, that plays host to some of the tournament's games, an adventure many of the kids playing this weekend have never had.
In the case of a team from California on Friday, who came upon a handful of NHL players as they prepared for their first tournament game, that comes with happenstance benefits.
"All of the kids were in awe, this is the closest they've ever been to NHL players and NHL locker room, anything NHL, and even just seeing the glove dryers in the Capitals locker room with the Capitals towels, it was like the craziest thing they'd ever seen, and you could see the impact it was having on them as players."
As the tournament continues to grow and more facilities pop up in and around the city, there are plans to add a girls division, if not multiple. Arizona ranked first among U.S. NHL markets in total, 8U, and 19U women's hockey growth percentage during the 2018-19 season.
Matt Shott, the Coyotes' Director of Amateur Hockey Development, who also oversees the operations of the team's youth girls hockey association, the Arizona Kachinas, is helping to drive the process.
"With the huge growth of girls hockey in the Valley, we've already started speaking with the tournament's director to implement a division next season," Shott said. "The Arizona Hockey Union has done such an amazing job growing this tournament, and its reputation -- coupled with the prosperity of girls hockey here -- makes this endeavor a no-brainer."
As for now, there's a day's worth of championship and consolation games to be played all across the city to determine the outcome of the 2020 tournament.
It'll be 75 and sunny outside, too.