The Zone 4 High School Hockey League kicked off on Friday, and the Portage Collegiate Trojans are just days away from their season opener. 

PCI will be defending their 2021-22 championship this year, and league president Mike Watson says it should be a competitive season. He adds it was great to crown a league winner last year after not being able to in 2020-21.

"Anytime you get to finish a season and culminate it in a championship game or series is great. It's something that we took for granted a few years back but now everything that happens like this has a sense of gratitude by everybody who's involved, I think," Watson explains. "Hopefully, we're looking for the same sort of thing this year. We'll see who the teams are but we're looking for an exciting brand of hockey in Zone 4 this year."

With the challenges of COVID-19 on the back burner, Watson says tournaments will make a return in the province this season and teams will get to play a larger variety of competition.

"Here in Morris, we hosted a tournament last weekend, and there were some Zone 4 teams in there but there were also teams from Steinbach, who ended up winning the tournament, Lord Selkirk, and Sanford. It was pretty exciting hockey and had some pretty close games, in fact, some ended in a shootout," Watson continues. "There's a number of teams going multiple places to take on other teams and see how they stack up against other schools in the province."

This is the 54th season for the Zone 4 High School Hockey League, and Watson notes it's incredible to still have it running as strong as ever.

"It speaks to all the people involved. The multiple volunteers that have gone through the various schools and teams that have been involved and made it happen. Obviously, the players and officials and everybody who makes it happen, we want to thank them for their part in that longevity. That matches my age, so it's serendipitous that I'm taking over the league this year, in the 54th year."

The Portage Collegiate Trojans make their season debut on Thursday against the WC Miller Aces. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 at Stride Place.