From June 28th to July 8th, the Anaheim Ducks, Reebok, and the Amateur Athletic Union hosted a massive, two-part roller hockey tournament at The Rinks: Huntington Beach. The 2012 Inline Hockey Adult Nationals segment of the tournament was held from June 29th to July 1st, while the 2012 Inline Hockey Junior Olympics ran throughout the course of the week-and-a-half -long event.
I participated as a player in the Adult Nationals tournament, and played spectator to a large amount of both Junior Olympics and Adult Nationals games. This is my experience.
A Prelude: I Hate To Lose
Last week I wrote about the scene at the tournament, and some of the people that I saw from my past upon arrival. Now, for as much as going to a hockey tournament is about the communal aspect of shared experience, and for as neat as it is to catch up with old friends, playing in a tournament is also very much about winning early and often – and I love to win. But I hate to lose even more, and I don’t think I’m alone in this thinking.
Ask anyone in my family. When I was younger, my loss-induced temper tantrums were the stuff of legends. It didn’t matter – I could’ve lost a meaningless card game, and I’d be fuming. I don’t know where that comes from, but I’ve always, always hated to lose. And although I’ve gotten much better about handling it, the feeling persists.
If you were to ask any hockey player (or any competitive athlete, for that matter) how they feel about losing, they might try to put on a good face and say something to the effect of, “Well, losing is just as much a part of the game as winning, and it’s more about the effort you put forth, yadda yadda yadda,” but what they mean to say is, “I hate losing with every fiber of my being. I hate losing more than I love winning.” If this wasn’t the case, the individual in question would have long ago given up competitive athletic pursuits for something like water colors or pottery.
(I should say that I’ve found I’m more at peace with a loss if my team played a legitimately good game but were the unfortunate recipients of bad bounces. I’m not sure why this makes it easier. Perhaps even though it’s still tough to stomach, in a way it’s easier to blame the Hockey Gods than to admit that you just flat out sucked.)
Have I made it clear just how desperately I hate to lose? Well, unfortunately losing is something that the teams I’ve played on recently in our beer league seasons have done quite a bit of. Chalk it up an overall lack of skill, chemistry, or teamwork, or perhaps even to being simply over matched – the teams I’ve played on have lost a lot over the course of the last little bit, and it’s left a bitter taste in my mouth.
And this is precisely the reason why I was looking forward to the tournament. We’d be playing in the bronze division against teams that, theoretically, should be at pretty equal skill levels to ours. We’d at least have a fighting chance. Theoretically.
The First Game
I suppose now is the time to introduce the team. I knew most of these guys beforehand, if even in passing, but there are some of who I met for the first time during the tournament.
HB Fury was comprised of:
Eddie Ballaris (F)
Alex Bletsos (F)
Collin Insley (F)
Chris Rossiter (F)
Mike Ballaris (D)
Steve Lancaster (D)
Andrew Rossiter (D)
Greg Schulman (D)
Patrick Demers (G)
As for how I know these guys, I’ve played pick-up a handful of times with Andrew, who did most of the legwork in putting the team together, with assistance from Alex. I play on a Wednesday night adult league team called Motley Crew with Alex, Greg, and Patrick. I’ve played Saturday morning pick-up fairly regularly over the last year with Mike and Steve. To my memory, I’ve never played with Chris (Andrew’s younger brother) or Eddie (Mike’s son).
Although we’ve all played with or against each other in some fashion or another, the fact that most of us have never played with each other in a structured environment, with set line combinations and actual defensive zone responsibilities, would prove to be, to put it lightly, a problem.
Along a huge wall that runs parallel to the third rink in the facility, there was a master game schedule for every division (both youth and adult), stretched out over probably close to 30 feet of the wall. As each day went by, the wall would occasionally be updated with game results and current point figures. It was from this schedule that we learned who our first opponent would be: Mission-Bauer 77’s. The fact that this team was apparently sponsored by Mission-Bauer should have been our first hint of what awaited us.
As we sat in our locker room, suiting up and preparing for our first game, we all speculated as to how a team representing Mission-Bauer could possibly be in the Bronze division with us, a bunch of beer league and pick-up players. We were already psyching ourselves out.
Once we were dressed for the game, one by one we started to vacate the locker room and hang out near the rink, waiting for the current game to wrap up. And then we saw them coming out of their locker room. This is a scene that anyone who has ever played youth or adult league hockey is familiar with – the sizing up of your opponents. Often times, you can just tell if a player (or an entire team, for that matter) is going to be good, just by looking at them. It’s some combination of the way they carry themselves, the way they hold their stick, or even something as superficial as how their equipment looks – if it’s high quality, but clearly broken in and appears to be all from the same manufacturer, for example. Ditto for matching jerseys and pants.
Now, this obviously isn’t a hard and fast rule. There’s always room for surprise – there are players with crappy equipment who can really play, and players with great, expensive equipment and snazzy looking jerseys who simply can’t. Appearances certainly never tell the whole story, but generally it’s a good thing to understand and look for.
And these guys looked good.
Then, as if to compound matters, Mike leaned over and whispered to me, “They’ve got
Shane Arsenal Shayne Arsenault on their team.”
That is to say, Shayne Arsenault the former professional roller hockey player, who played alongside some of my RHI heroes growing up – guys like Joe Cook, Victor Gervais, Glen Metropolit, and Rich Garvey. The same Shayne Arsenault featured, among others, in the below video of a “Masters” game held at the 2011 Adult Nationals:
Subjectively the hockey in the video doesn’t look very good, I know, but you must keep in mind that a) they’re hardly even trying because b) it’s a glorified exhibition game and there’s no real reason to risk injury. (I also recognize at least one other player in the video who played for the Mission-Bauer 77’s, although I admittedly don’t know who he is.)
So, we’d be playing against those kinds of players, then. Although I tried to push negative thoughts out of my head (thoughts like, “why the hell are these guys playing in this division?” – a question to which there was a frustratingly bureaucratic answer) and maintain some form of optimism, it proved almost impossible, especially once the puck actually dropped and we got a taste for exactly how thoroughly these guys could dominate us.
Out of Our League
It wasn’t pretty, almost from the beginning, and got downright demoralizing near the end, so I won’t spend too much time on this. Let me put it this way: their goalie was a better puck handler than most of our team, and could put a nice, crisp puck on the tape from 100 feet out. We were never even close in this game. If I had to guess, we had maybe 10 shots on goal all game, and never generated any notable offensive zone pressure, or even any rebounds. They completely, 100% controlled the flow of the game (often times by dumping the puck back into their own zone to allow their goalie to quarterback the breakout – this grew very, very frustrating). The final score was 8-0 – a “mercy.” They put in the eighth goal with just under 2 minutes left to play, but if it wasn’t for a number of sterling saves by Patrick, and the fact that they were clearly only going about half-speed the whole time, it very well could have been 8-0 after the first period. It was that ugly.
Now, to their credit, they all seemed to be classy, stand-up dudes, and I’m sure that they can’t have been having very much fun either. They played a good, clean game and were respectful of us the whole time. They could have really rubbed our noses in it, but they refrained from doing so, and I’m impressed by that. But why were they even playing in our division in the first place?
Well, to my understanding, they had originally signed up for the 35-and-over division, but no other teams registered for that particular division, and so the tournament management put them in our division (Bronze), which itself had only had three teams register. Why they couldn’t have put Mission-Bauer 77’s in the Silver (or even Gold) division and bumped one of the Silver teams down to Bronze is beyond me, but there’s no point in stewing now.
We may have all been demoralized (I’d go so far as to say shell-shocked), but hockey is a fast-moving sport, and this holds true for the natural swings of emotion associated with both winning and losing. We may have lost (and badly), but we had to bury the feeling and quickly re-group to prepare for the next day of games, when we’d have two to play. We had no idea how good the other two teams were going to be, but we had to somehow make a tournament out of this…
To Be Continued
(Check back soon for Part 3.)
S/t to Brian Fletcher via Christine Fletcher for the Arsenault correction…that’s why I couldn’t find a thing about him in Google searches…