There is nothing like a little get-away tournament to bring out the kid in – ‘ahem’ – more experienced hockey players.
That was the case for me and fellow Antigonish Old Dogs during the last weekend of March, as we traveled to Moncton for a recreation tournament.
The New Brunswick hospitality was first-class and hockey very enjoyable as we earned enough points in three round-robin games to advance to Sunday’s title game in a 35-and-over division.
It was the Old Dogs versus the Moncton Slowpokes in the final which may speak to the self-effacing nature when it comes to recreation hockey teams choosing names, but one should never be confused that terms like ‘old’ and ‘slow’ ever refer to competitiveness; which never really leaves any player who has ever played competitively.
We had some doubts about our Moncton pick-up goalie Doug Vail going into the final. Based on the round-robin game, his buddies on the Slowpokes’ seemed to have a pretty good scouting report on him; but Doug stood tall as we built leads of 2-0 after one-period, and, eventually, 6-0, before the ‘Pokes scored a questionable goal in the dying seconds which ruined Doug’s shutout. The obvious goalie interference goal was cancelled out by a just as obvious holding penalty on us; the 15-second sequence becoming just another laughing point after the game … for both teams.
So while the competitiveness remains, it really is secondary to guys just enjoying the sport they all once took much more seriously, and played better.
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We were fortunate to have a couple of slick forwards – Adam Dunphy and Willie Joe Sofan – who, hovering closer to that 35 age mark, weren’t as far away from those ‘better’ days than most of us. If fact, Adam and Willie Joe would have been factors for any division age group in the tournament.
The enjoyment spills into the dressing room and continues back at the hotel, where tales of the ‘good ole days’ are shared and laughed about; mixed in with recollections of games just played, the NHL, major junior, local sports, families, jobs … life.
For me, it was nice to catch-up with Antigonisher Donnie MacDougall who joined us along with a small contingent from the Halifax area – most originally from Antigonish; Kevin Cameron, Greg MacDonald, Brent MacDougall and well-known hockey personality Allie MacDonald.
Donnie and I were teammates many moons ago with the Truro-Shubie Colonels senior team, back in one of the hey-days of that level in the province.
“You were in that 18 second game?” Donnie asked, exaggerating the time while referencing an infamous game between us and the Dartmouth Moosehead Mounties, who dominated the league in those years and would go on to win a Hardy Cup the following season. I was, but not having started the game, was amongst the majority who never made it on the ice before the game was controversially called off at the 3:12 mark of the first period.
Our team spent like crazy that season, building up a roster we felt finally could compete with Dartmouth’s (Antigonish’s Dave Purcell and John Bekkers were part of that build, as well as legendary St. F.X. defenceman Peter MacKenzie). Our final regular season game was considered to be a playoff preview and the old Colchester Legion Stadium was packed to see if we could send a message going into playoffs.
An incident in warm-up led to a six-on-six line brawl during an early shift, which included a scary injury to Dartmouth captain Mike Kelly (Mike would be OK). Having started the game with a short line-up which now featured six less players, iconic coach Bob Boucher – of St. Mary’s University fame most notably – pulled the rest of his team off the bench and refused to continue, feeling our coach –Wally Travis – had initiated the line brawl with the intention of reducing their numbers.
Donnie and I recalled the crazy violence and how we both came to know Dartmouth antagonist Craig Booker – public enemy number one in Truro in those days – in the years since. Craig would conclude his senior days in Truro; going from enemy to hero as one of the key members of the 1998 Allan Cup champs.
“That wasn’t yesterday,” Donnie, who - along with Pictou County’s Jim ‘Jimo’ Taylor - would end up being my line-mate to conclude that year, said.
“It sure wasn’t,” I concurred.
But playing in Moncton and winning the annual Dynomites’ tournament was just a couple of days ago; add another memory to the hockey collection.
That never gets old.