Last weekend, the Boy, a few of my buddies (including another father-son duo) and I made our annual, but perhaps final for now, pilgrimage to the Walter Gretzky Street Hockey Tournament. A tourney held in the hometown of the man known in hockey circles simply as The Great One and his almost as famous Hockey Dad. What better place for fathers and sons to play some puck and ball together. Coming off a stellar result, going undefeated and technically finishing in 5th place overall following the round robin in the Adult Rec division last year, our cobbled together group of half young lads and half well-seasoned veterans like yours truly, long ago dubbed STICK U, were optimistic about our chances of showing well again. With the possibility of having a Friday night game, I had booked a hotel room for two nights with the tourney being located nearly two hours from home. As it turned out, all of our games were scheduled for Saturday, which afforded some of us the opportunity to spend Friday night “preparing” for the challenge ahead. And how better for finely tuned athletic machines to prepare than with two large pizzas, a couple of frosty beverages and a few pressure-packed rounds of hardly high stakes Texas Hold’em. I personally enjoyed the first two a bit more than the third.
We woke early and just raring to go for our 11am game against a seemingly erstwhile side called the Sausage Runners.
One notable thing about Adult Rec Men’s sports teams is the variety of creative monikers, though many follow a common and predictably, sexually-oriented theme. Among my favourites in no particular order this year were Zidlicky My Balls, My Balls Your Chin, Multiple Scoregasms, Hamilton Phat Cocks, The Guts cuz it sounds mean and Kane’s Taxi Squad for the NHL Playoffs tie-in. The obvious testicularity of many of these male-constructed labels is troubling to be certain. A catchy name and homage to The Great one from a previous tourney worth noting was I Promised Mess I Wouldn’t Do This.
Surely, we’d be able to get off to a quick start against a team with a questionable nickname like Sausage Runners, which itself may be anatomical in nature. After a brief sighting of the tournament’s namesake (yup, Walter wanders the grounds giving interviews, taking pictures and signing autographs) and witnessing a brawl in one of the younger divisions, which spilled over into the spectating parents (cuz that’s what you expect to see at a just-for-fun charity tournament), STICK U faced-off against foe number one. We could tell early on the Sausage Runners were a little more dangerous than their lime green t-shirts and silly sobriquet suggested. They scored a couple of quick markers on the Boy’s uncle (who only stands between the pipes once a year, but you’d never know it) which we answered with goals of our own. However, we found ourselves down 4-2 halfway through the 20 minute contest. Their lead would be extended by a phantom goal the ref claimed went off the centre post, but made the unmistakable sound of striking the cross bar. STICK U would battle back to make the game 6-5 only to see a two-goal lead regained and held till the conclusion. An 0-1 start would demand back-to-back victories, if we hoped to play at least one more on Sunday.
While the primary focus of such a weekend is ball hockey, the time after and betwixt games has certainly provided some highlights. This time is typically spent in lawn chairs or on beer laden coolers back behind our vehicles with tunes playing and non-stop laughter evoked by new and old stories only guys appreciate. Being well-seasoned we upped the post-game ante this year with a couple of bbqs, lump charcoal, applewood chips, thoroughly marinated chicken wings, halved limes and home-made bbq sauce prepared lovingly by a teammate. To say the by-product of these ingredients was to die for would be a severe understatement. The Boy quipped they even rivaled hockey momma’s Portuguese chicken, a longstanding family favourite also prepared over a charcoal grill.
After a feed of wings, a couple of burgers, a distinct depletion of the cooler contents and a realization of the advancing age of a few, several amongst us were hard-pressed to leave the comfort of tailgating to play a second game. But a squad called simply Awesome awaited our challenge, so off we went. The Boy surmised a team who called themselves Awesome, likely weren’t. Arriving at the designated “rink” for our next match, we found a ragtag group not unlike our own; except we had a bit of a young guy advantage we hoped to capitalize on. Perhaps the highlight of this game, beyond it being a 5-2 victory for the good guys, was the first occurrence of a full father-son line. The 4-on-4 format allowed for me, my buddy and our Boys to collaborate against an opposing foursome; a cool and memorable opportunity to be sure.
Our spirits were buoyed by having evened our record at 1-1; thereby giving ourselves a chance to advance with a repeat win. A loss would signal an early tourney exit. After a bit more tailgating with just enough time for muscles to start seizing up, we would be tasked with facing a team we suspected would be strong; though they hadn’t come up with a more imaginative name than Topper’s Pizza. As it turned out, some of their side were holding their pre-final game prep session right next to ours. We naturally encouraged them to get their fill of libations or to maybe even consider forfeiture, since they’d already won two matches on the day. What we didn’t fully realize in speaking with our foes-to-be was their relative youth. Hell, most of them were probably not even old enough to partake in wobbly pops. We would become well aware the moment the ball was dropped to start our final match. I won’t repeat the final score, but suffice it to say, our weary legs were no match for those of our counterparts. Further, we agreed this team passed the ball and generally played at least one level above Adult Rec calibre, in which we were firmly entrenched. It leaves one to question what satisfaction a bunch of 20-somethings get from thoroughly defeating a slightly misfit bunch like ours. Not a tale of conquest I’d want to relay to my friends. Why wouldn’t they want more of a challenge at an appropriate level? With this in mind, we’ve pondered finding another tourney to enter next year, though my guess is we’ll find our fair share of sandbaggers there as well. One thing is certain — STICK U will rise again.
Regardless the outcome of our last game and the tournament-ending death knell it dealt a disappointed STICK U contingent, I’m fairly confident the overall experience was positive. We’d cap the two-day junket with a team dinner at a local watering hole, watching the first two games of the third round of the NHL Playoffs, a few more drinks to drown our sorrows and a return to the Texas Hold’em table to recoup, in my case supplement, past losses.
We would rise the following morning with aching muscles, yet a burning desire to play at least one more game, undoubtedly fueled by the perception of having been wronged to some degree a mere 16 hours earlier. The drive home would be bittersweet and long enough for the aforementioned old muscles to seize up just a little more making the climb from the car a painful proposition. A text from a teammate had earlier bluntly declared “I am paralyzed.” After dropping off our two passengers, the Boy turned to quickly say, “Thanks for the weekend Dad.” A simple gesture, but more than enough, coupled with two-days worth of laughs and even a wee bit o’ quasi-exercise, to validate the abbreviated weekend.