Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Hockey Life: Tourney time

Now that the fall-winter travel season is over, Colin and his Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning teammates find themselves fully immersed in tournaments. This weekend, they're playing in the Big Bear Tournament right here in the Tampa Bay area. In a couple of weeks, they'll be playing in the state championships.

Though they're a Squirt A team, meaning the kids are 9 and 10 years old, they're playing up a division this weekend, against Peewee (11 and 12 years old) teams. With most of the kids turning 11 in the months ahead, it makes sense, as one line of reasoning goes, to give them, as well as the other teams, a taste of what to expect down the road.

How will it affect the team's performance in the upcoming state championships, when they'll be playing within their division? Well, that remains to be seen. I'd rather go into a major tournament like that on a roll, not on our heels. Getting knocked around by bigger kids seldom produces positive outcomes. These kids are resilient, though, and I'm sure they'll bounce right back.

The Big Bear Tournament, however, seems a bit different. In the three previous tournaments, the kids have mostly played two games a day over two days before heading into championship play. This Big Bear event, the kids are playing just once a day. After night games the past two days (earning 1-1 record, to date), the kids will play at 2:15 p.m. today. To me, that just doesn't have a tournament feel.

Granted, we're still pretty new to this game. All told, this is Colin's fourth tournament. We're used to playing an early game, heading off to lunch, watching another game or perusing the pro shop and then playing the second game of the day. That way, it's easy to make it a day at the rink, one of the allures of participating in tournaments.

What makes tournaments fun, I believe, is contributing to the buzz at the rink. It's a chance to catch up with old friends who play for other teams. It's a time to make new friends, remembering that uniforms aside, the kids are all the same -- hockey players. And, for me, it's continuing the quest for the best cup of hot coffee at a cold rink.

The best part of the Big Bear Tournament, so far, has been that it allows us to take part in the Hockey Weekend Across America festivities, a celebration of the game we love here in the United States.

On Friday, dubbed  the "Wear Your Favorite Jersey" day, I pulled my old Mitchell & Ness Kansas City Scouts jersey out of the closet. The Missus drew a couple of smiles with her Hartford Whalers jersey. Colin's favorite?  His Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning #37.

Yesterday was "Try Hockey for Free" day. Not sure where we fit in to that scenario. If that was the case, perhaps one-quarter of our entry fee should have been returned, right? I doubt that will happen, though. So, here's hoping that more than a few kids caught the hockey bug, thanks to a free introductory twirl around the many rinks that opened their doors to kids.

That brings us to today, which, if you're not involved in a tournament, is all about playing the game of hockey. For at least 30 minutes, you should pick up a stick, find a puck or hockey ball and take part in this sport we love. It can be passing the puck out in the street, practicing your stickhandling or hitting the corners of the net out back on the patio. All that matters is going out and playing some hockey.

That reminds me, I have to pack Colin's gear bag for this afternoon's game.

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