Hockey tournament fever is spreading to North Bay. The city will host its first-ever Native hockeyconference Jan. 30 to Feb. I at the Pete Palangio Arena and Memorial Gardens.

Twenty four teams will face off in the Northern Star Unity Cup, which offers over $15,000 inprizes and awards.

The tournament is the brainchild of Charlie Small, who was born in Waskaganish and raised in MooseFactory. He’s lived in North Bay eight years where he coaches minor hockey and works as a studentcounselor to the 100-odd Cree kids who go to school in town.

“It’s on its way,” he said, now that the idea has become a reality. “It’s looking good.The students are really excited about it. The community itself has been very cooperative.”

Small hopes the tournament will continue on a yearly basis and plans to invite scouts to check outthe talent.

“The main focus is to promote our youth, not only in education but also in hockey.

It will give them an incentive to work harder in school and in their sport.”

Matthew Blacksmith, who is helping to organize the event, used to be director of the Cree NationInvitational Tournament. He left in 1995 to go to school in North Bay, where he is finishing a programin recreation and leadership at Canadore College. He figures $50,000 is needed to fund the event,money he hopes the city and local businesses will kick in to help make it a success.