I think my best memories from my minor hockey days are more of a collective memory of travelling to play in tournaments. When you grow up in such a small and remote town as Dryden, Ontario, it’s fun to get out and see how the rest of the world lives or, in this case, plays. I loved the whole experience: the travel, the hotel, the games and the fun between the games.
Where I grew up, we usually only played games once or twice a week and had practice once a week. So, having the opportunity to play two or three times in one day was awesome.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I had six or seven great friends that I played with for most of my minor hockey career. As soon as the season started and we got a look at our tournaments schedule, our excitement level ramped up. And beginning a week prior to any tournament, we started our preparation on the road in front of my house or at the outdoor rink a block-and-a-half from my house.
I can remember one tournament where we were travelling to Superior, Wisconsin. For some reason we were told (or at least we thought we were told) that hitting was going to be allowed. We were only Peewees at the time and hitting was NOT allowed in our age group in Canada. However, at that time, it was allowed in the USA. Needless to say, we were pumped to finally get to play “big boy” hockey and start lowering the “Boom” on some people.
In order to prepare for this new element to our game, my friends and I decided we needed an extra week of road hockey to get ready to throw the body around. So, two weeks before the tournament, we started our own hitting clinic on the road in front of our house. Due to the incredible amount of snow, the snow banks were about 10 feet high, which made a perfect landing zone for our hip checks.
As the tournament drew closer we introduced one final training drill: the Gauntlet. Everyone, except one kid, formed a line down the road. The lucky lone kid’s job was to try to run down the line between the snow bank and the line of kids. The job of the kids lined up was to not allow him to reach the end — meaning body check him all the way down the line. And if he somehow made it to the end, our last kid — that acted as a linebacker — ran full steam ahead and hammered the tired and beat up runner! Each of us had a turn running down the gauntlet. Can you believe we were all best buds? Although, I’m not sure if there’s a better way to get ready for body checking.
After much anticipation (and bruises), it was tournament time! We were so excited. Finally, we were getting the chance to play like they do in the NHL. Our group of seven was so fired up. As soon as the puck dropped, it was chaos — kind of like the Hanson Brothers’ first shift in the movie Slapshot. We were running around with our heads cut off trying to hammer anything that moved. I think we got four or five penalties in the first 10 minutes of the game.
After our fifth boarding minor, the referee came over to our bench to see what was wrong with us. It was at that moment he pointed out there was NO BODY CHECKING in this tournament! Obviously, that was news to us. For the rest of the tournament, we played within the rules and had a great time. I look back now and wonder if anyone even told us there was hitting or if we just made it up. Either way, for those 10 minutes we got to play like they do in the Show!
As I look back on my days of minor hockey and the experiences I had, I think what I cherish the most was the opportunity to play in tournaments. Not only was it the excitement of travelling with your buddies, staying in a hotel and playing the games, but also the anticipation and excitement prior to the tournament weekend. Man, I wish I was a Peewee again. Enjoy it while you can!