Lessons Learned – Part 1

The Boy’s team (and fathers, which was a bit of a touchy subject for some mothers) were treated to a unique hockey experience over the weekend that started with all boarding a charter coach bus bound for Oswego, New York on Thursday morning at 6am.  Bleary eyed boys and dads loaded suitcases, sticks, equipment bags, coolers, a few boxes of Tim Horton’s coffee and a few more boxes of Timbits into the waiting underside and overhead compartments of the idling vehicle. The coach and manager had prepared a very detailed itinerary, which included a practice at the SUNY Oswego campus hockey rink, a campus tour, two games against a local under 16 team, two team dinners, a SUNY Oswego university exhibition hockey game and several team-building exercises. The latter activities were a primary focus of the trip. The importance of being a part of a team and putting the team first were underlying themes for the entire weekend.

The bus ride was about six hours in total so some hunkered down to catch a snooze on the way to the border.  Some seats were faintly lit by iPods or cell phones screens.  Not an hour into the trip I was alerted by the Boy’s mom that he had left his hockey stick in the van in his early morning haze.  I’d already planned on maybe looking for a deal on a stick south of the border, but it seemed that was now a certainty.  Ah well, at least we didn’t forget his skates (see a few posts back covering another trip to New York about a year ago – ohhh, yes we did).

First stop before the border was the duty free where some boys hit the Tim Horton’s and many fathers took advantage of discounted alcohol and tobacco products as an intended means to pass the time while the boys took part in their team-building functions.

At the border, all bus riders were required to disembark to vouch for their citizenship and attest to their father-son relationships.  Mom’s had, of course, already signed affidavits granting permission for their sons to travel into the U.S. with just one parent.  After a few juvenile snickers about who should have been interrogated more vigorously, we jumped back on the bus to continue our journey.

We arrived at the hotel just north of Syracuse after a quick stop for lunch.  Team roommates were assigned and father’s partnered up to share accommodations and room costs for the weekend. Boys being boys dispersed to check out their rooms, declare dibs or wrestle for the most comfortable beds and find out what trouble they could get into without getting caught.  But this was short lived as there would be an initial team meeting before dinner at Dinosaur BBQ. Dinner was generally regarded as awesome. I, for my part, made relatively short work of Tres Hombres; an array of bbq’d pork parts, mashed potatoes, baked beans and corn bread to die for.  The Boy thought his meal left a little to be desired, which left me wondering where I went wrong in his upbringing; though he is more of a beef guy by nature.

Post-dinner we headed back to the hotel where the boys and some fathers caught a movie; while other fathers broke out the cards, poker chips and duty free purchases. The team had a curfew as there was a practice early the next morning. The 7am wake-up call came a little too early for some of us fathers. But awaken we did; trudging down to the breakfast buffet before re-boarding the bus on our way to the university.

Side note – it had not yet stopped raining since we left Canada over 24 hours earlier and would not stop for another 24; which was one of the only negatives of the weekend.  

SUNY Oswego is a very well regarded Division 3 NCAA hockey school and the facilities we entered for practice were quite impressive.  We were told later that they were an upgrade from an old airport hangar, which served as the home rink only a few years ago. The team practiced for about an hour and a half; looking like they had woken up early following a 6 hour bus trip, a visit to a BBQ restaurant and a night in a hotel.  Father’s hoped the spaghetti legs and stiff arms would leave prior to their date with the under-16 team.

After practice, the boys were treated to a guided tour of the part of the campus from the Assistant Coach of the university hockey team (rain and wind cut short any possibility of a fuller tour to the relief of many dads). The tour began with a brief speech on how Division 3 university hockey works. In short, there are no athletic scholarships and all players were there as students first and hockey players second.  Some would have opportunities to pursue semi-pro or pro hockey careers, but academics were of utmost importance; a good message for impressionable 15 year-old boys to hear methinks.

The tour ended in the university team locker room; replete with its history, symbolism and messages about hard work and teamwork.  The Assistant Coach reinforced the prominent themes and gave several real-world examples of how SUNY Oswego measured and realized success. Though they are 15 years old boys, with the intermittent attention spans of 5 year olds, I don’t believe the message was lost on this group. Evidence of that fact has since been seen on and off the ice.

Back on the bus and off to a nearby Subway to quell the hunger of our growing young men and a few starving fathers; before heading to a hockey store which was reportedly just on the way back to our hotel.  Just on the way back was definitely a relative phrase as we drove a fair bit farther than expected to find the fabled location. In the U.S., unlike in Canada, you cannot just go into any sports store to find hockey gear; you have to go to a hockey-specific store.  As our bus load of eager Canadian hockey shoppers pulled up, the store owners most assuredly must have said a brief prayer of thanks for their impending windfall. Most every player left with some new piece of equipment, the Boy a new stick of course, and fathers left with lighter wallets.

The unplanned stop-off at the hockey store meant only a short hotel visit as formal dinner plans were made at Delmonico’s Italian Steakhouse.  The boys were required to wear a dress shirt and tie; to look the part of an organized and respectable team.  Dinner again was awesome; enhanced by the general atmosphere of the steakhouse and a talented roving magician who captured the nearly undivided attention of the team. His crowning feat saw a card, inscribed with the words “Barrie Colts OMHA Champs”, magically attach itself to the ceiling of the restaurant; a trick which will not soon be forgotten by any of the witnesses, young or old.

With bellies and brains full we ventured back to the hotel where the boys curfew and the dads’ poker chips awaited.  We fathers apparently forgot how early the wake-up call seemed only 18 hours earlier as our games of chance and duty free chasers took us well into the night.

The next two days would provide the actual competition the team had traveled down for along with an introduction to the spectacle that is U.S. university hockey. More to follow…


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