TEXAS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Beginning Thursday, postseason hockey is heating up at Wings West near Kalamazoo, but the teams taking the rinks are not from Western Michigan University’s club hockey program or any of the local high schools who call it home.

Forty-four of the best 14 and under teams from around the country are in town for the USA Hockey 14U Tier II National Championship Tournament. A total of 800 players plus their coaches and fans are facing off across three divisions to find out who is the best in the U.S.

Matt Kakabeeke serves as executive director for the Kalamazoo Optimist Hockey Association, which is hosting the event.

“People just felt nothing but welcomed by the community of Kalamazoo, from their hotels to their experiences in our local stores,” Kakabeeke said.

generic kalamazoo optimist hockey association

KOHA was set to host the tournament in 2020. The pandemic punted that opportunity just two weeks before it was supposed to start. Now, it’s back.

“Three years of planning, and all of a sudden, you think you have all this time… (Thursday) morning, I woke up and it’s like, ‘OK, here it is. It’s time to go,'” Kakabeeke said.

It’s already a smashing hit for the area, according to Brian Persky, director of sports event development for Discover Kalamazoo Sports, a tournament partner.

“Anecdotally, talking to coaches and team parents that are looking for activities to do, we know that they’re going out to eat… they’re going out to do bowling, just general team building stuff that they’re doing in our community.”

Persky says the tournament already generated more than $2 million in direct visitor spending to the community, thanks to the hundreds staying in hotels and checking out southwest Michigan while playing for a national championship.

“You’ve got teams from all over the country coming in. For us, it’s a chance to introduce people that haven’t been to Kalamazoo before, and they might come back for another visit,” Persky said.

This is not the only national tournament coming to the Kalamazoo area this postseason. Beginning April 6, the National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association championship will be on at the Wings Event Center; 35 teams will take in the area and face off for a national title.