Thirty years later, U of A medicine alumni lace up for a good cause

Annual IceBowl hockey tournament fosters personal and professional connections while lending support to local adaptive recreational sport organization.

Danica Erickson - 4 April 2024

Can you think of a more Canadian way to connect with old friends and make new ones than lacing up your skates and playing a game of hockey? Probably not.

That’s why since 1994, the IceBowl has offered medical students across western Canada the chance to take part in a friendly competition while building important personal and professional connections. From April 19 - 21, this legendary event is returning to Edmonton, where it all began, to celebrate 30 years of making connections on and off the ice.

IceBowl began — as many western Canadian traditions do — with a backyard conversation between friends. University of Alberta medical students Mike Kolber, Rob Korbyl, Adam Chodkiewicz, Stu Reynolds and Sean McIlreath wanted to find a way to connect with medical students from other schools. “As you go through medical school, you realize that you're very intimate with classmates in your own school, but you have no connection with students from any other medical schools,” says Kolber.  

They all played hockey and knew medical students at other schools did too, so they decided to start a hockey tournament for western Canadian medical schools. On that day in 1994, the IceBowl — so named after a glance at an ice-filled glass sitting on the table in front of Kolber — was born. “The first year it was us, the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Calgary and hosted by the University of British Columbia. UBC smoked us,” laughs Kolber.

Today, five medical schools take part annually and the event has expanded considerably. “We have competitive and open games and all of the divisions are co-ed,” explains Kenzie Vaandering, a second-year U of A medical student who is one of the event organizers. She and her fellow second-year medical student and co-organizer Gabriel LaPlante are happy for the tournament to be back in Edmonton and to have the chance to get involved. 

“Our motivation has just been to reignite those relationships between the schools that were lost during the pandemic, getting back to providing the opportunity for students from each school to meet each other. By the time medical students enter the Canadian Residents Matching Service (CaRMS) process, they could be placed anywhere across the country. IceBowl is an excellent opportunity to get to know other medical students you may end up training with in residency, and maybe even eventually working with in practice, so building those relationships and a network beforehand is really valuable.” says Vaandering.  

IceBowl also helps alumni stay connected, nurturing lifelong friendships made in medical school, so social events organized for the weekend include an alumni mixer on Friday night, April 19 at MKT Edmonton, a Saturday-night hall party on April 20 and Sunday brunch on April 21. To celebrate this anniversary, Kolber and members of the original team will even suit up for a game. “We’re a very active alumni group and grateful to get together. It’s going to be so fun!”  

For those not up to a full game but still looking for an on-ice adventure, this year’s partnering charity, Paralympic Sports Association (PSA) will offer an introduction to sledge hockey with drills and a fun match with sled-hockey athletes. “Annually, the IceBowl selects a charity to support, and it was important to us to pick a local organization. PSA already partners with the U of A medical school through a first-year program called students and service, and we want to support their great work,” says Vaandering.

For those who aren’t ready to step onto the ice but still have a competitive spirit, there will be cheer competitions for the spectators, with materials for people to make the best sign to cheer on their team. All U of A community members are welcome to join in the fun. “We want to get everyone involved, whether or not they're a hockey person. IceBowl isn’t just a hockey game; it’s a whole social experience,” says LaPlante. 

Thirty years on, Kolber still fondly remembers walking in to a standing ovation at a bar in Saskatchewan during the second IceBowl tournament and having to use a garbage can from the bleachers as a trophy at that same tournament. There will be actual trophies this year, but Kolber notes that’s not why the IceBowl has continued to thrive after 30 years. “It's not about winning; it's about connecting. It’s really nice to see something we started 30 years ago for the sake of fun continuing on.”


Click here for information about the schedule, events and registration for IceBowl 2024.