Beginning this week and heading through mid-February, Colin and his Brandon Jr. Bulls teammates will be playing in more tournament games than anything else. It's that time of the year that puts the "travel" in travel hockey: tournament season.
Tournaments provide, at the minimum, four games in two days. Making the semifinals adds another game. Playing for the championship means a sixth game. All told, the kids could play 18 games in less than two months, matching the sum of their Central Florida Hockey League season, which runs from October to February.
Unlike last season, when tournament time was new to us and proved to be highly enjoyable, we're heading into this one with mixed feelings. While we always look forward to watching Colin play, there are a couple of others factors that are worth considering.
This season's journey begins Wednesday, when we head down to Estero, Fla., for the team to skate in the Holiday Invitational at Germain Arena. Thankfully, it's a two-hour ride down and we're familiar with the surroundings. Even better, we'll get to catch up with friends whose son is also playing in the tournament.
After that, we could find ourselves in Atlanta over the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday weekend in mid-January. Though we paid our entry fee and have made hotel and car reservations, I'm not sure we're going. Like any tournament, the costs can quickly add up. This one, when it's done, could cost us, at the least, between $700-$800.
To us, that's a big chunk of change. Especially when, about a month later, the team is scheduled to play near Charlotte, N.C. While that trip will likely be as expensive, there's more incentive to go on that one. We have relatives in South Carolina, so we'll stay with them. That tournament, too, will give them their first opportunity to see Colin play hockey. That alone makes the trip, which is the most appealing one of the plate, worth every last penny.
All told, though, these three tournaments could cost us (I'm estimating between $1,700 or $2,000) more than the CFHL season fees (about $1,650). These costs include the tournament fees, lodging, transportation (we'll rent cars rather drive our high-mileage vehicles and it'll be cheaper than airfare for three), food and incidentals. It all adds up -- very quickly, too.
For that very reason, finances are the driving force behind any decision. Only recently has my freelance work, which pays for Colin's hockey, started to ramp up. When I had a steady gig, it wasn't much of a problem. I saw the rewards of my consistent 60- to 65-hour weeks, factoring in my 40 hours at the newspaper. Sadly, I haven't had too many of those since July. Colin's hockey, unfortunately, has felt that pinch.
Yes, we knew going in, as we have with other seasons, that travel hockey isn't cheap. That's why I put in the extra time, when it's available, so we can afford this luxury. These days, it's more important to replenish our finances and be much more selective with our spending. We already passed on one tournament, down in South Florida after Thanksgiving, for that reason. Those savings will help make our Christmas a little merrier and cover some of the costs of this week's road trip.
This week's trip represents our first extended stay, so to speak, with the Brandon Jr. Bulls organization. Because we haven't had the best of times this season, because of a recurring (and hopefully resolved) issue, I'm curious how this trip will go, from how the kids play during their games to what happens off the ice.
As an aside (and, likely, a future Sunday column topic), I'm hoping that one disturbing story about parental drinking during the South Florida tournament isn't repeated. It seems, and not just within the Jr. Bulls organization, that some parents believe tournaments are a reason to party hard. Thankfully, I'm not one of those parents.
This week will also be a first for Colin and me. The Missus has to work, so it'll just be us boys. That's why we're approaching this like a pair of teammates on a minor-league road trip -- hanging out, making some memories and having as much fun for as little money as we can. I'm thinking it'll be much more father-son bonding than anything else.
Bottom line, this tournament season should be mostly about hockey and having fun. Let's hope it is.