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.
Progress and Setbacks
Last week, I wrote about the difficult art of losing gracefully and putting that practice to the test in the first game in the tournament. The week before that I wrote about the lead-up to the tournament. This week, I’ll take a look at the second day of the tournament that saw our team play two more games, as well a word or two on the staggering amount of games being played by players of all ages, skill levels, and nationalities.
After the disappointing experiences of the first day of the tournament, I vowed to make the second day a better experience regardless of our game outcomes. One way to do that at a hockey tournament of this scale is to get to the rink a little bit earlier than you need to and simply take it all in – watch a game or two, people watch, check out the various sponsor booths. There’s always something going on at these kinds of events, and a large part of your experience is what you make of it. And so I got to the rink a little bit early on Saturday to do just that.
I figured none of my teammates would be there yet, so the first stop I made was at the big schedule board to take stock of any games I might want to catch either before, or in-between our own games that day. One I definitely wanted to catch was Mission AKS (Lucas’ team) vs. Reebok in the Pro division. I hadn’t seen Lucas play in over a decade, and it’d be neat to see him play against such high-level competition. I also wanted to make a point to catch a few of the games featuring any one of Jim’s handful of Mission-Bauer teams. Beyond that, I decided to allow myself the opportunity to be surprised. (This wound up being the source for my most entertaining watching experiences over the course of the tournament.)
“Where Are These Guys From?”
On day two alone, I was fortunate enough to watch teams from all over the world play a little puck. Off the top of my head, I saw games involving teams from places as far flung as Columbia, Quebec, and even noted hockey hotbed Oklahoma.
A few words about each:
I caught most of a youth-level game (I’d guess they were either Pee-Wee or Bantam age) between Team Columbia and a local California-based team. Watching these Columbian kids play was without a doubt one of the most impressive things I took away from the tournament.
For as much as I pontificate about how good hockey players can develop anywhere in the world, I don’t always necessarily put much stock in a team’s chances when I see that they’re from a truly non-traditional hockey market like, for example, Columbia. Although kids growing up playing hockey in South America undoubtedly don’t have the same opportunities as even kids from California do, it’s a mistake to take them lightly. These kids can play, and their parents are over-the-top passionate (what would a Columbian hockey game be without the use of a few vuvuzelas?). At one point I heard someone say that the Columbians had been in Huntington Beach for a month already and could be seen jogging in formation up and down the streets near their hotel early in the morning.
I admittedly don’t remember the final score of the game I watched, although I’m fairly certain that the Columbians lost. That said, before I saw them play, wrong or right, I couldn’t imagine a scenario by which these kids would even stand a chance against competition from North America. Consider my lesson learned. The Columbian kids may have lost that one game, but they more than made a contest of it, and the fact that they even showed up at all is something to celebrate, as hockey continues to grow all over the world.
In-between our two games on Saturday, I sat down to watch an Adult Silver Division game between a team from Oklahoma and a team (once again) out of California. Once again, I made the mistake to think that just because a team is from a non-traditional hockey market, that they’d be blown out of the water (honestly, how low is hockey on the list of things you think about when you think about Oklahoma?). And again, lesson learned.
Team Oklahoma (not their actual name, I just can’t remember what they were called) had some really talented players, and I’m fairly certain that they won their game that I watched. I’m going to have to make it a point to do some research on the hockey culture in Oklahoma because, from what limited exposure I have, it seems as though there may be some quality hockey being played where the wind comes sweeping down the plains.
Hockey may or may not be a big thing in Quebec (understatement of the century), so it’s no surprise that any team hailing from the French-Canadian city will probably be, you know, pretty good – and these guys were definitely that, and so much more. Beyond their skill (which was plentiful), they also had a real style, though. Most of them wore variations on the kind of helmet that Wayne Gretzky wore for his entire career (you know, the one that would have done less than nothing to stave off a concussion), which was hilarious and awesome in a nostalgic kind of way. Their matching Nordique-blue jerseys were also pretty slick looking, and instantly communicated a lot about who they were and where they were from.
The one thing that stood out though, obviously, is how good these guys were. They were playing in the Adult Gold Division, and from what I saw (I made a point to watch several of their games) they dominated the rest of the field. This was a team that had obviously played a lot of hockey together, as they worked incredibly well as a unit, and seemed to have a real sense for where everyone else would be at any given time.
One thing you have to understand is that for a Californian hockey player of my vintage (born late 80s, started playing in the early 90s), most of us never really got to play against Canadian competition growing up, and so there was always the sense of, “Well yeah, we’re good, but can you imagine how good teams from Canada must be?” For that reason, I still get excited to watch Canadian amateur teams play – I still get that, “Oooh, these guys are gonna be good” sensation – a sensation that is rarely ill-founded.
Team Quebec’s superstar was a young man with the last name Cusson, who looked to be in his early-to-mid 20s, and could flat-out fly. He’s easily the fastest skater I’ve ever seen up close, and that’s including any NHL player. He was almost too fast to be credible. And he could play, too – great passer, great shooter. He was their MVP, and I found myself admiring him from afar. Very impressive stuff.
As fun as it is to watch a lot of different teams from a lot of different places, the most fun (in theory) should be playing in your own team’s games. Even though we had lost (and badly) in our first game, today was a new day, and the other teams in our division couldn’t possibly be as good as Mission-Bauer 77’s…right?
Our first game of the day was against a team called Off Constantly. Because they had been playing at the same time as us the previous night, we had been unable to pre-scout them at all. We’d be going into the game blind – but that’s almost always the case in tournament play, which means that you’ve got to adjust on the fly, which is part of what makes it so fun.
I think I can speak for my whole team when I say that we were determined to not be embarrassed in this game. We were all ready to go and prove (mostly to ourselves) that we do indeed know how to play hockey.
From the opening puck-drop, it was clear that this would be a much better game for us. Obviously that we were playing an opponent much closer to us in skill level had a fair amount to do with it, but beyond that, I thought that we were moving the puck much better, and were generally playing better as a team. Putting the biscuit in the net helped, too.
I opened the scoring with a slap shot that found its way through their goalie and actually broke one of his wheels. I added another goal before the period was out, on a wrist shot from the slot, off of a rush. We were on the board for the first time in the tournament, and it felt great.
Off Constantly had a good team, though and they fought back to even the score – we’d continue to go back and forth, trading goals, until finally one of our players (it was so long ago now, I can’t remember who exactly – I think it was Steve) put the puck in on what I remember to be a crazy bounce that tied the score at 5-5, with about a minute left to play. We hung on for the rest of the game to put our record in the tournament at 0-1-1. A tie can be hard to stomach, but in this case, both teams had played well. Besides, I’ll take a good game and a tie any day of the week over a bad game and a blowout loss.
Our next game wasn’t for about four or five hours, so while a handful of us had other things to do in the interim (Greg actually had an ice hockey game to play in), those of us who planned on staying to watch some games hunkered down and made ourselves comfortable. I found a secluded place outside to dry out my equipment. Some of us ate, some of us may have even indulged in an adult beverage or two, but mostly we waited and watched.
It was during this time that I watched the three teams mentioned above play, as well as Lucas’ AKS squad face-off against Reebok. (It didn’t end well for AKS.) I can genuinely say that it was a good time just to hang out with the guys – those of us who stayed bonded a bit over our shared passion, which would really help for the rest of the tournament.
When the time for our second finally game rolled around, we were more than ready to follow up our tie with an actual victory. We’d be playing the confusingly named Lady Ducks (a team surprisingly comprised of all men), who had lost 3-1 to Off Constantly in the first game of the tournament, and just as badly as we had to Mission-Bauer 77’s (although they had managed to at least put a goal on the board). We’d surely be able to beat these guys.
We shouldn’t have come into this game with such a cocky attitude. We wound up losing 5-0 in what, for me at least, was the most frustrating game of the tournament. It wasn’t as if the Lady Ducks were a power house. They were completely beatable. We just flat-out sucked. No one was communicating, our passing was awful…poor Patrick must have faced a half-dozen breakaways and 2-on-0’s. There’s no two ways around it – we just let him (and ourselves) down.
The scene in the locker room afterwards was depressing. Not a lot of talking, guys clearly upset and/or pissed off. We were all frustrated, and once again, we’d have to find a way to bury these feelings for tomorrow. For as bad as our record was (0-2-1), we still had a shot at a medal tomorrow, and we’d need to play our very best.
To Be Continued…