It’s that time of year again! The sun is beginning to poke its weary face from out behind the clouds and tease us with the notion that Spring is just around the corner. If this is not enough to set off alarms that we are soon out of the woods from this thrashing that Mother Nature has thrown at us the past few months then the Annual Easter Minor Hockey Tournaments definitely will.
The Annual year end Easter Tournaments for NL are about to get underway, with the Female categories commencing the end of this month and the rest of the leagues and groups to begin the 3 week in April. By now most arenas and communities are putting in place the final preparations for whatever age category and division they will be hosting, as this is for many community arenas one of the busiest weekends of their respective facilities. It is a time when communities come together and donate many valuable volunteer hours to ensure that everyone involved, including players, parents, officials and fans of the game have a very memorable time. Where local businesses donate products and prizes and sponsor various weekend events. In actuality, it is almost like a yearend celebration for the players and everyone else involved with minor hockey. It is a time of year when all players no matter what their age or skill level believe that they are playing for the ultimate prize that hockey can offer for the World’s coolest and fastest sport, the Stanley Cup.
If you happen to be around a rink during this time of year, make sure if you have the opportunity whether you have anyone related to you or not playing to drop in for a quick look because you may be surprised at what you see. For a few hours each day of the tournament you will see children competing as hard as they can to capture provincial honours and bragging rights for a full year. There is nothing and I mean absolutely nothing left in the dressing room during these games. You will kids working as hard as they can and sacrificing everything they have by blocking shots, diving for pucks and just letting it all go. It is a brief time when nothing else in the world matters to them. They become in awe by the mere presence of all the people in the arenas watching them play and if you look close enough you will probably see each and every one of them trying to imitate their favourite NHL player, it really is an amazing time.
As we all know, there can ultimately only be 1 winner crowned provincial champion at the end of each tournament and for a brief few seconds you will see a few tears from players that were disappointed in the game and tournament results. However, the key words here are a “few seconds” because once the game is over not only is all the energy and drive they had left on the ice, but so is the disappointment they felt just a few moments earlier as they rush to get a plate of the respective arenas fries. This is a magical time of year; it is a time when lifelong friendships are formed and memories that will one day become stories that are told over and over again. It never fails that when I run into some old friends from minor hockey you can be guaranteed that at some point one of your tournament experiences will be brought up and laughter will fill the room. Most are too young to recognize this now but believe me it is something that sticks with you a whole lifetime. I still have many fond memories of my Easter tournaments and think back about them all the time!
Not only is this an unforgettable experience with many great friendships and memories for the kids, it is also a great time for the parents as well. They get the opportunity to experience and travel to many communities that they have never had the opportunity to visit in NL before. They get to watch their children get lost in the moment and experience highs and lows and for some see them develop and mature right in front of their very eyes. They also get the opportunity at the meet and greets to form friendships that will last a lifetime as well, it really is a special time and deserves to be given the attention that it needs to make it as enjoyable and memorable experience as possible.
My Easter tournaments were some of the most memorable times that I have ever experienced during not only my minor hockey days, but my many years playing pro as well. There was no pressure to win or be the best, no scouts or managers to worry about being in the stands watching your every play and critiquing you on every little mistake you made. It was a time when you played for one of your best friends sitting next to you in the room and for the community that you come from. The pride that you get display when skating onto the ice for your first game is something that really can’t be described unless you are out there competing yourself, and even then who knows what each and every player is thinking and what is going through their heads as for a brief moment in time they can be anybody in the GAME that they so desire.
One of the reasons my Easter tournaments are so memorable is because of the fact that back then we were perennial champions. I won 2 provincial tournaments during my minor hockey days and they were both something that I will never forget. My first title came in Atom, when we beat the mighty Avalon team in their own rink, the Prince of Wales. One of the reasons I remember this so much is because our team and coached were determined to win and were going to at all costs! Fair Play was out the window then and we were here to take care of business. To make a long story short, as the game was winding down and our staff figured that we were sitting in the drivers they begun to give some lesser talented players at the time a chance to play. It was in the last minute of the game and the coach looked at Robbie Rose and told him to get out there with the big guys. Robbie turned around and sat in more polite terms, no thanks I think I’ll sit this one out. Well the words were not out of his mouth and I had 2 feet over the boards ready to go and to be honest with you, I can’t really blame him cause we had already sat there for the last 59.5 minutes are were nearly froze to death but I was too excited and the adrenaline took over. I was on the ice to count down the win and title.
My other memorable moment came a few years later as we hosted the All-NL PeeWee tournament in our hometown. Now Corner Brook had not won a provincial peewee tournament in something like 20 years and this was a big deal back home. The last team to win the tournament was one which my father and another teammate of mine, David Earle played on. Once again, we were up against a far superior team from St. John’s, this time I believe it was the St. John’s Caps Association. We had no business at all of even being in the game let alone winning it, but back then never thought like that. The mighty Corner Brook Royals donated their dressing room to us for the game and once inside of there as a team we could have called the game right then and there because there was no way we were going lose that game. We thought we were invincible and were the ROYALS. We all had our favourite players and were determined to win, and with a sold out Humber Gardens and fans cheering us on we overcame the odds and won! This was the first time in 20 years that Corner Brook captured the PeeWee Tournament and we did it again with our Dads right next to us, it was an amazing experience that I will never forget and will always have a special place with me because several years later my father passed away and Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador named the PeeWee A trophy after him. I still dig out the old VHS tape every now and then and watch the game all over again. That my friends was the only 2 tournaments I ever won as a minor hockey player and even though we were not all that strong and lost many a game I do not think I would trade it for anything in the world as these are memories that can never be taken away.
So, as the days get longer and the tournaments approach try to make a special effort to find out if there is a tournament in your town this year and drop in, I can guarantee you that it will be worth your while. As for the parents and players, cherish this time and take everything out of it that you can. You may not realize it right now, but many years down the road you will still be sitting around with your old teammates or probably even your own children reminiscing about the games, the friendships you formed and realize just how special this time of year and the GAME really is.
Too all players preparing for their big weekend in the next few weeks good luck and play as hard as you can!!