The Toyota Hockey Challenge represents a cultural exchange between two countries, Japan and Canada, through hockey. Through the mutual support of Toyota Motor Hokkaido (TMH) and Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc. (TMMC), the exchange sends and receives 13 &14 year old boys to the hosting team’s country to learn about cultural differences, and of course, play hockey. The opportunity is offered to the AAA Minor Bantam Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo teams. The dispatch of teams alternates each year between Japan and Canada.
History of the Toyota Hockey Challenge...
The Toyota Hockey Challenge began in 1998 to commemorate the beginning of business relations between two companies: Toyota Motor Hokkaido and Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc.
Also, 1998 marked the 10th anniversary of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc. and the 50th anniversary of City of Tomakomai in Hokkaido, Japan
1. 1998 Cambridge to Tomakomai
2. 1998 Tomakomai to Cambridge
3. 2000 Cambridge to Tomakomai
4. 2001 Tomakomai to Cambridge
5. 2002 Cambridge to Tomakomai
6. & 7. 2003 – 2004 Tomakomai to Cambridge & Waterloo to Tomakomai (both held in March/04)
8. 2005 Tomakomai to Waterloo
9. 2006 Kitchener to Tomakomai
10. 2007 Tomakomai to Kitchener
11. 2008 Cambridge to Tomakomai
12. 2009 Tomakomai to Cambridge
13. 2010 Cambridge to Tomakomai (7th Canadian visit to Japan)
14. 2011 Tomakomi to Cambridge Cancelled due to the Massive Earthquake/Tsunami (Tohoku) on March 11, 2011
15. 2012 Kitchener to Tomakomai
16. 2013 Tomakomai to Kitchener
17. 2014 Waterloo to Tomakomai
18. 2015 Tomakomai to Waterloo
19. 2016 Waterloo to Tomakomai (photos)
20. 2017 Tomakomai to Waterloo (photos)
21. 2018 Waterloo to Tomakomai (photos)
22. 2019 Tomakomai to Waterloo (photos)
23. 2020 Waterloo to Tomakomai Cancelled due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, hockey season cancelled March 13, 2020
About the Japanese Trip...
Typically, the itinerary includes hockey games, TMMC/TMH plant tours, sightseeing, and a home-stay with the family of the hockey counterparts of the hosting country.
The Toyota Hockey Challenge started when the President from Toyota Manufacturing Canada and Toyota Japan got together and decided what a great idea it would be for a friendship exchange to take place where a team from the Tri-Cities; Waterloo, Cambridge and Kitchener would travel to Japan to participate against the Tomakomai All-Stars (an All-Star team made of the players from the 5 high schools in Tomakomai, Japan on the island of Hokkaido (Northern Japan)). In the following year, they decided that the Tomakomai All-Stars would visit the Tri-City area to play the Association of the team that travelled to Japan the previous year.
March 2020 would have marked the 12th time that a team from the Tri-Cities will travel to Japan; Cambridge=5 trips, Kitchener=2 trips and Waterloo=4 trips.
The trip features two games but the main focus of the trip is to learn about each other's culture through school visits, home visits and various site seeing adventures.
A select number of professional players have participated in the event including Tim Brent and Brian Little from Cambridge and Tanner Pearson from Kitchener, just to name a few. These players consider their trip to Japan to be a highlight of their Minor Hockey careers.
Toyota Motor Manufacturing Company oversees all the travel and accommodation requirements for players and coaches who participate in the event. It is truly an experience of a lifetime!
VISIT OUR FACEBOOK PAGE TO VIEW THE TOYOTA HOCKEY CHALLENGE PHOTO ALBUMS!
Waterloo Region Record
"Hockey's the glue," says Tony Martindale, executive director of Alliance Hockey, the minor hockey organization under which local teams play. "Having been to a number of these myself, it's really neat to see kids that don't speak the same language, but by the end of it, they're getting along so well."
In years where a local team is travelling to Japan, early-season results between the Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge minor bantam AAA teams, plus an exhibition "championship" game, determine which city will represent the region. Last March, the Waterloo Wolves got to travel to Tomakomai after winning the Toyota Challenge final over Kitchener earlier in the season.
The team of 13 and 14 year olds spent a week in north Japan, touring historical sites, visiting local schools and homes, and of course, playing some hockey.
The big take-away for the team's head coach Todd Townsend was how the players from different cultures connected.
"I thought the language would be a really big barrier," said Townsend, the minor bantam head coach again this year. "But with things like Google Translator and the fact that they were talking hockey, the language wasn't that big an issue at all.
"Even at the first reception when they paired them up to eat dinner, it was amazing how much banter there was even with language barriers."
Having been the representatives last year, this year's Waterloo minor bantam team will be the hosts for the Tomakomai all-stars later this month. The Japanese players will arrive March 22 and get a whirlwind tour of southern Ontario, hitting sites like Niagara Falls and the Hockey Hall of Fame.
They will also join the Waterloo players for visits at their schools and dinner at their homes as well as welcoming and farewell receptions.
And then there's the matter of the games. While it's certainly a friendly competition, Waterloo will be looking to avenge a pair of losses in Japan last year.
"They were easily the best team we faced all season," said Townsend of last year's edition of the Tomakomai all-stars. "We're definitely expecting this year's team to be really strong as well."
While Japan isn't thought of as your typical hockey powerhouse, the sport has grown significantly in the country since the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics — particularly in the north, where the climate is similar to Canada's.
"Especially around Tomakomai, (hockey's) gotten pretty big," said Martindale. "The Nagano Olympics had a big impact on hockey there and they have a professional league and they've made some big steps in their development programs."
Martindale added that in his years being involved, the series has always produced competitive hockey games, with the Japanese program getting stronger every year.
Before the Wolves can focus on their Japanese opponents, they have a rather important matter to attend to: the Alliance Hockey Championship. Starting this Friday Waterloo, winners of six-straight, will take on the Kitchener Jr. Rangers, who finished atop the regular season standings, for the minor bantam AAA crown.