We were able to all sleep in some on Saturday morning; if you consider 7:30am after hitting the hay at 2:00am sleeping in. Some fathers simply did not apply the lessons they had learned the previous mornings.
Following the now traditional breakfast buffet, the boys had a quick team meeting before loading their gear back into the bus, which would take us all to their first of two games against local counterparts in Oswego.
When we arrived at the arena, which we were warned would be a cold old barn, a couple of fathers astutely noticed a few things.
First off, the blackboard announcing the dressing room assignments indicated Oswego was in Room 1 and Canada..not a town, city or province, but representatives of the entire country, was in Room 2. Our coaches were told to let the team know the hopes and dreams of the nation’s hockey fans were resting on their shoulders. And so the stereotypical notion that Americans lack basic geographical knowledge continued in tact. If this team are ever to visit us back home we will be sure to label their room, “The Contiguous United States of America”. But I digress.
We then noticed that at least two of the players on the opposing team drove themselves to the game in what were apparently their own vehicles. Note – our Minor Midget team still has some players who have yet to celebrate their 15th birthday. We all started wondering about the make-up of the “under 16” team our boys had been scheduled to play. Some wondered if the local laws allowed 15 year old drivers or if there were indeed some 16 year olds on the team; there were certainly some large players…who drove their own vehicles to the rink.
Once the boys hit the ice the trepidation subsided as there was an ample mix of big and small players on the home side. We had obviously only paid attention to the former group on their way into the arena. The boys and we would then find out that player size did not translate into player skill or speed. The visiting Canadians came out quick and dominated the play for the most part, scoring first but then giving up a goal to finish the first period knotted at ones. The second and third periods were similar in tone, though signs of frustration started to show on the home side as they took a few unnecessary penalties.
One thing our boys did have to get used to was an automatic offside call, which was reinstated in the U.S. some time ago. They were caught a couple of times trying to simply dump the puck over the blue line as they are accustomed to doing north of the 49th parallel; but soon adapted. I recall the Boy’s team encountering the same at a tournament in New York last year and taking quite a bit longer to adjust.
At the end of the first cross border clash the scoreboard read Visitors (i.e. Canada) 5 – Home (Oswego) 1.
Victorious the team bus pointed itself towards nearby fast food joints where fathers and sons alike loaded up on meals, combos and super-sized sodas (that American for pop). Back at the hotel the boys were given some free time to swim or find other distractions before we headed to the SUNY Oswego hockey game that night. Several fathers used this time to catch up on their poker.
The hockey game we were going to at the University was billed as an exhibition between the SUNY Osewego Lakers and an “All Star” team from an “Outlaw Tier 3 Junior A League” from our region up in Canada.
The Oswego team had a couple of cuts to make in their pre-season which had only begun the night before. The NCAA has some stringent rules on when you are allowed to practice and the team had literally started at midnight before we arrived then practiced again at 5am that same early morning.
We would quickly find out that an all-star Tier 3 Junior A team is no match for a perennial NCAA Division 3 finalist. When we walked into the rink, a couple of minutes into the game, it was already 1-0 and the fans were raucous to say the least. Perhaps the most memorable part of the whole weekend for me was the atmosphere in that building and the antics of the fans who were among the most passionate hockey fans I have ever seen. I suppose mixing university student pride with hockey can have that affect. The fan pointed and chanted emphatically “It’s All Your Fault!” and “Die Die Die…You Suck!” at the beleaguered opposition goaltender every time a goal was scored by their beloved Lakers. If a penalty was taken by a player on the visiting team he would be escorted to the sin bin with the chant “Ahhhhh, sit your ass down bitch!” On this night, the fans would have plenty to chant about as the Lakers skated to an almost embarrassing 17-0 win. Shots on goal favoured the Lakers 76?-14, with 12 of the “all stars” shots coming from outside the blue line. In short, this was no contest.
You couldn’t blame the Oswego players for running up the score as some of them were fighting for one of a couple of spots on the team. And you couldn’t blame the fans who were attending their first game of the year. They had no doubt pent up an off-season’s worth of anticipation just waiting to burst forth.
From a hockey perspective, it wasn’t much of contest, but for pure atmosphere and entertainment value it was well worth the $7 ticket price. Having attended this game, I would love to have been at any of the playoff games that have been played in that rink over the last several years; and particularly for a 4-3 overtime win in the championship final back in 2007. It must have been pure bedlam. The players on the ice must draw pure adrenalin from a crowd like that. The experience has stuck with our boys too; who were heard chanting “Ahhhh, sit your ass down bitch!” at one of their opponents in their first regular season game back in Canada.
The post-game trip back to the hotel was relatively quiet as was the night in the hotel as it seemed the previous nights finally caught up with us. There were some pizzas ordered, cuz boys are forever hungry and arena food just didn’t cut it, but most hit the hay in preparation for the rematch with the “under 16” team.
Game two, against who we eventually found out was actually a midget team comprised of players aged 14-17, was similar to game one. The boys dominated. They built a 5-1 lead by the end of the second period. Team Canada was the recipient of several powerplay opportunities cued by Oswego frustration in the third period. The coaches reported the referees actually asked them if they wanted to work on 5 on 4 or 5 on 3 situations. The invaders from the north finished with a 9-1 win over the home team. They had represented Canada well.
It was time to pack up, pick up 17 pre-ordered Little Caesar pizzas and start the six hour journey back to anxiously waiting moms. It was a quiet ride home. Bleary eyed they had left and now bleary eyed they would return.
A well organized four days provided our young men with many solid life/sport lessons and memories, which for some, may last a lifetime. Many of those memories may have nothing to do with hockey. That’s just fine. As always, hockey simply provides the backdrop upon which these lessons can be laid, interpreted and applied to the benefit of the learners. Commitment, dedication, team work, loyalty, perseverance, education and respect were prevalent themes of the weekend. The members of this team should certainly be thankful for the opportunity they were given. I’m quite certain they increasingly will be as they encounter new situations in their evolving student careers and lives where the lessons learned can be brought to bear.