Confessions from a last-place tournament team

“Know anybody over 30 who would be interested in playing this weekend in old timers?” was the question that hit my phone via text message on Monday afternoon while I was in the office.

“Ambo is a few short apparently,” was the message that followed.

Those two texts were from a friend of mine, Ryan Gray, who had joined my Sunday night hockey rental within the past year and whom I have enjoyed having on my rentals, both in the winter and the summer, because he works very hard and seems to have the type of personality that fits well with our group.

“I could probably do it,” I responded, figuring I owed him one, or something.

“First game Thursday night. 5:45,” Gray texted.

“I can check for another,” I replied.

I spent a handful of moments checking with another buddy of mine, Chris Morgan, who teaches at Michigan Tech, to see if he wanted to play. Chris had been the first name to come to mind because we had had conversations about playing in Old Timers-type tournaments before.

Chris was on board quickly.

So, just like that, I was set to play in a tournament that started about 73 hours from the time of the first text I received from Ryan. Of course, that in and of itself would not be a big deal.

That was when I remembered something crucial. I had broken my hockey pants less than 24 hours earlier!

I suppose I should back up a little bit. During my rental the previous Sunday night, I had returned to the bench from a shift and when I sat down, I felt something strange inside the left leg of my pants. It turned out to be a rogue pad that was trying to escape.

Apparently a few of the guys noticed it on the ice. Obviously, I had not, until it was too late to do anything about it.

I pulled the pad out of the bottom of my pant leg and went on about my business for the rest of the evening.

So, Monday evening, after agreeing to play in the tournament, I was in the market for a new pair of pants. This meant a trip to my toy store, Center Ice. Eric Lehto, after helping other customers, pulled down four different sets of pants, and I settled on the set that fit best (naturally, they were also the most expensive, which always seems to be the case when I am in the market for gear).

I needed to test the new pants out before the tournament, and fortunately, there was a skate at MacInnes Student Ice Arena on Wednesday where I could do that. I wore them for the skate and felt pretty good about how things went. My pants felt stiff, which naturally made sense as they were new, but overall, I felt pretty good about them.

Not long before the Wednesday ice, Chris had messaged me about the schedule. I had an understanding, correctly or incorrectly, I am not really sure, that we were going to play in the 30 and Over Silver Division. Chris’ message said that we were actually in the 30 and Over Gold Division.

That makes a big difference. The quality of hockey played goes up quite a bit between Silver and Gold.

In the course of locker room conversation, we discovered that yes, indeed, we were placed in Gold. Oh, and to make matters worse, our first game on Thursday was against M&M Powersports, a team that featured Peter Rouleau, Guy Hembroff, Brent Peterson, Craig Biekkola, Jerrod Moilanen, and Jeff Mikesch.

Needless to say, it was a mismatch, on paper. In reality, it was much worse. We, a team made up of guys from Iron Mountain, Chassell, L’Anse, Escanaba, and other ends of the Earth, fell behind 2-0 very quickly.

I was playing defense. I was playing okay hockey, not great hockey, but just after I made what I thought was a good play in keeping Rouleau from getting a clean path to the net, I was whistled for a hooking penalty. Of course, M&M scored on the power play.

We were down four goals before we finally got on the board. The center, whose last name I later learned was something like “Ceretti,” won the draw back to me in the left circle. I looked up, waited for him to create space, and put the puck off the boards to him. He skated the puck the length of the rink and buried a shot for our first goal of the tournament.

After that, I settled in, but we continued to get scored on. The final score was 12-3.

After the game, in conversation with Hembroff, he asked me if I had fun.

Of course I did!

The next day, we were playing a team full of Calumet Wolverines and a few former Calumet Copper Kings.

I started at center, but halfway through the game, we were down 8-1 or 8-2, and we decided to make a change, putting me back on the blue line. Things calmed down, but we ended up losing 12-2.

On Saturday morning, my mother and I made our way up to the Portage Lake Pioneers pancake breakfast at the Houghton County Arena. While sitting down to breakfast and some light-hearted conversation, in walked Hancock Bulldogs assistant coach Dan Juopperi. He joined us after grabbing his food, and during the conversation, we discovered that we were set to faceoff at 8:20 p.m. against each other.

After one period of play, his team, Rajala’s Kitchens, was up 1-0. In the second period, as we had in the previous two games, we had a letdown of about 8-10 minutes where they jumped ahead 5-0. We gave up one more in the third for a 6-0 loss.

I had a nice play late in the contest during a penalty kill for us where I made a backhand clearing pass to one of our forwards for a breakaway, but Carl Asiala, who was playing goal for Rajala’s, managed to stop him.

Later, I found out that our forward was concerned with not falling, and did not focus as much as he should have on shooting.

At the end of the day, Ambassador’s Restaurant went 0-3 in the tournament and were outscored 30-5 for the weekend. I did not really learn the names of most of my teammates. However, I had a blast getting the chance to play in the tournament for the first time in a decade or so.

Before my final game of the weekend, I ran into Finlandia assistant coach Micah Stipech, who asked me, as part of our conversation, when I would qualify for the 40 and Over age group. I was, internally, really surprised by that question. Micah went on to explain that he played in the 21 and Over until he reached the age where he could play in the 40 and Over.

I respect that. However, I did not tell him this as I thought it to myself, but I had so much fun playing, even on the worst team in our bracket, that I do not want to play anything else until I cannot skate at this level anymore.

The other thing I learned this weekend is that I need to get into better shape if I am going to play in the tournament again.