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Revenge of the Canadians

Tue, 01/31/2017 - 11:53 -- Brian Keelan

It’s been a rough start for me this year sports-wise: Team Canada lost that heartbreaker to Team USA in a shootout. This while watching the Lions lose their last three games of the season to the Giants, the Cowboys and the Packers to go from first place in their division to a wild card berth against Seattle, which they then lost.

I was on a losing streak. Good thing I’m not a betting man eh?

My (just-turned) 14 year-old grandson Mitchell has been playing hockey this year for the Sarnia Sting Minor Development Bantam team. Little did I realize the commitment these kids have to make in order to do this. Mitchell is in grade 9 this year at St. Pat’s, but it really isn’t much of a high school experience for him. When he’s not in school he plays hockey, and I’m sure a lot of his time at school is spent thinking and daydreaming about hockey. He and 17 other kids plus two coaches and a trainer all are the same, as well as a lot of other kids in this town, along with thousands of other kids all over Canada and the USA.

You try out for the team in a two-week selection process in May. If you get selected, you start practicing in September and you start playing in October. Then you play until March 18th. Two to three games a week except for the weeks when you might have four or even five games. You play 50 (or so) games a year and you have at least 48 practices. If all goes well your team goes to the all-Ontario playoffs.

The weekly routine is something like this: two practices a week – Tuesday and Thursday. Saturdays and Sundays you have games. On long weekends you have games on Friday and/or Monday.

In your spare (?) time, you follow the Sting and the NHL. Your phone and computer is loaded with clips of hockey players scoring goals, hitting guys and making fancy puck moves. The rest of the time you are out in the driveway developing and practicing all the moves you have seen on your internet clips.

Some people will say it’s better than some of the other things he could be doing, and I would heartily agree. But he could also be reading the classics, learning how to write computer code, spending quality time at the art gallery and/or learning how to play a guitar or the piano.

I sound like a fun grampa don’t I?

These kids suit up and go on the ice about a hundred times during a school year. I don’t know of any other sport that makes those demands. The parents pay for everything but each kid tries a to get a sponsor for $300 (Ice-time etc.) otherwise the parents pay that too. Have you seen the price of hockey sticks lately? I even got our boss here at First Monday to generously agree to sponsor Mitch. “It’s good publicity,” I told him. “Everyone will think you’re a sweetheart.”

So… we get to Christmas and I am going to all the home games and making most of the away games in an effort to support my grandson. But truth be told, it’s great hockey. These kids are getting bigger and faster and they are very well-coached.

They play mostly Ontario teams but the coaches applied to and were accepted to play in the Motown Cup tournament held at several different arenas in Detroit. The tournament was played over the second Saturday, Sunday and Monday in January. (Monday was a holiday in the USA in honour of Martin Luther King.)

Game one: Saturday 5:45 pm. We play a team from Ohio. Both sides are a little nervous as this is their first international encounter. It’s a good game. Back and forth and we win, 3-2.

Game two: Sunday at 1pm. We play another team from Ohio and this one has a little weight being thrown around because nobody  wants to or is going to take any shit from anybody. They only use two officials, whereas in Canada we use three, so some stuff does not get called because it does not get seen. But… we win: 3-2. It’s a close one but we deserved to win it.

Game three is Sunday night at 8 pm. Another Ohio team.

I did not stay to watch that one but I had a good excuse: Green Bay was playing Dallas. However, my daughter-in-law kept me up to date with end of period texts.

No score after 1. No score after 2.

The game ended in a 1-1 tie but Green Bay did beat Dallas with some last-minute field goal heroics so Sunday night was not a complete bust.

Monday morning: I was texted that I could go online and watch game four on the internet. It cost me $15. We were playing a team from Pittsburgh. They were AA… two divisions over us. They were bigger than we were and they came out throwing their weight around. They’d give us a big hit. We’d give them a bigger hit and we get into penalty problems.

They beat us 4 -0.

Nuts!

Coach Dwain Spitzig told me, “They came ready to play. We didn’t. We could have beaten them because we can move the puck around better than they can. But... they took it to us. They really took it to us.”

So now I’m thinking, “That’s it.”

I was wrong. Through some kind of voodoo math involving goals against percentages when compared to teams with the same won-loss record, we wind up with some good news and some bad news.

The good news: we make it into the championship game.

The bad news: we have to play the Pittsburgh AA team again.

Dwain and the other coaches tell our players not to get down on themselves for losing the first game. “This game is yours to win or lose. We have an opportunity to show these guys we’re not the team they think we are. Just play the game the way we’ve showed you how to play it and you can beat these guys. So relax. Win or lose we don’t care. Just give us 100%... maybe a little more if you can find it.”

I sat down to watch it on the internet but my daughter-in-law forgot to tell me that the game was at the other rink and they don’t have the internet service.

Now Sylvia and I are sitting on the couch waiting for text messages.

We started off slow; playing well but again ran into penalty problems. They score two power play goals and go up 2-0 in the second. Then we score two even-strength goals and tie the game up. So not satisfied with that, we get another penalty and they go up 3-2.

In the middle of the third, they get a penalty and we tie the game up, 3-3.

With just 4 minutes left, we score an even-strength goal and take the lead for the first time in two games.

Our boys hold them off and win the Motown Cup!

Coach Dwain told me, “I knew they could do it if they stuck to the system we’ve been teaching them. All they needed to do was play the whole ice.”

When I asked Mitchell what he learned from that tournament, he said, “No matter what the score is, don’t give up. Hang in there because things can change… really quick.”

Out of the mouths of babes eh?

So… we lost the World Juniors to the USA but our boys got one back for us last Monday in Detroit. Truth be told, I’d rather we won that Motown Cup tournament than the World Juniors.

Now that’s just my opinion. I could be a little biased but hey… did I mention that my grandson plays on that team.

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