Tomorrow is one of my favourite days around this time of year. No it isn’t when we draw names for the Christmas party or test the recipe’s for Christmas. Although as a fat guy, if my wife decides on a test recipe day it may quickly move up the list. No tomorrow is the announcement of pools and schedule for the Macs Midget Hockey Tournament. An incredible hockey tournament hosted in Calgary every year. The best AAA Midget players from all over the globe come for this amazing event. And on the eve of finding out all of the competitors I wanted to share some memories.
I don’t remember my first year at Macs all that well. I would have been 6 going towards 7 years old. See in 1989 Petr Nedved defected at the tournament. Really it didn’t mean a whole lot as the iron curtain was falling and his defection was more token it would turn out in the near future. It brought a lot of attention to the tournament. The following year my Dad and I started attending.
I will be honest, I think through the years the relationship with my Dad has been really at its best at the rink. It is where we come to a common ground. I often think I am a lot like my Mother, which isn’t bad but is also very different than my Dad. My sister is his closer match. Very driven, disciplined people. I look up to my Dad a ton but I realize we are different in our approach to a lot of things. I am sure as a child I drove him nuts. I enjoy my time with him, but the time spent watching hockey is my favourite. We banter and disagree but bond over our enjoyment of good hockey. It is something we share and this tournament is our best time. Every year since that year we wake up on boxing day and start the marathon of games over the next week. When other kids were playing with their new toys, mine sat, I was busy on a hard orange seat in the Max Bell Centre watching 5 games a day. Some great memories have been made there.
When I was young we would sit right behind the benches. The arena is a very miniature version of an arena for a pro team. It is home to a AAA midget team and a junior A team. There are maybe 15 rows of seats around the sides of the rink. The concrete stairs are painted blue and grey and at the top around the concourse area is a red rubber floor. The top railing has black posts and a wood 12 inch beam for leaning on. Many a spectator choose to lean instead of sit. My seat as a kid was behind the blue concrete wall that separated the players from the fans. You could see right into the bench. This was before they erected a glass wall behind the bench. The only glass was to divide the two teams and right at that divider I would sit. Would allow me to switch allegiances. More importantly I wanted autographs, and best to ask the winning teams coach if we could come down. There I sat the awful stench of teenage boys, who seemed like men, filling my nostrils and swear words ringing in my ears. My Dad a row behind, taking in the action.
My goal early on was to collect autographs, pucks and at that time players gave away a lot of their sticks. Must have really pleased their parents. Many cool autographs were taken at this tournament. I sat with the team of a young Jarome Iginla one year during opening ceremonies, while they signed my program. I tried very hard to get every team. A young Krys Kolanos and Dany Heatley treated us awesome in their dressing rooms as well. Often a guy would take us in and tell the guys to cut out the swearing while we walked around getting autographs in awe of these heroes. They may have been teenagers but to a child they seemed like professionals and men. A finish team unloaded on us one year, sticks, pucks and stickers. They were always tough ones because you had to find someone who spoke english to get you down.
The best one was the Marquette Electricians. The year they attended, they weren’t all that good, but they were good at the arcade game in the lobby. My friend and I met them and became the Marquette teams fan club for the rest of the tournament. A few of the guys played arcade games with us and treated us really awesome. There was a guy named Ryan and another named Anniquette. They were cool guys, one of my favourite memories. Another year the Saskatoon Blazers team invited me in for their team picture at the end of the tournament. All cool memories for a child.
Each night the last game would wrap up around 10:30PM. My dad would wait in the lobby while I wrangled up my last autographs of the evening. Coming out of the dressing room hall always well after almost everyone else had left. We would crawl into the cold truck and head home only to return at 8:00 AM the next day to start it over.
As I got older two things happened that ended the autograph hunt. One is I am a grown man and realize they are just kids and its weird to ask for their autographs, and two is they put a glass wall up that doesn’t allow you to climb over the concrete wall and down onto the bench. Security doesn’t let anyone into the dressing room hall without a pass. But many other memories exist, even some from my autograph time.
One year I dropped a pickle jar before christmas in our storage room. My Dad entered later that day, and like every good child I hadn’t cleaned up my mess. My Dad stepped on the glass. I did him a big favour that year. He needed stitches and couldn’t work, he had to sit at Macs the whole week. That is one of the few years I pulled the sweep and attended every single game held at Max Bell and the final at the Saddledome (for those counting that is somewhere in the ballpark of 28 games in 7 days). One year when I was young I got into a disagreement with another young boy. He stabbed me in the hand with a pop can he had turned into a shiv. What I remember about that is I got to go behind the scenes into the volunteer area.
We have watched some amazing players go through the tournament. Iginla and Crosby. But my favourites were two players who ended up with New Jersey as pros. Scott Gomez came with the Alaska Aces one year. The team wasn’t great but Gomez was a one man show. He was amazing. Shattuck St. Mary’s came a lot for years. The owned the tournament for a long run and the rules were changed subsequently (hockey parents suck cause it is them who complained I am sure). One year they brought a young man named Zach Parise. This player was the most dynamic player the tournament ever saw. Ask any die hard fan and they will tell you he was the best ever in the tournament. He was absolutely dazzling.
The final is always pitched as something “that promises to be a great game.” Generally it is pretty ho hum. But the playoff round has yielded some amazing hockey. One of my worst memories is having to work as a teenager during the playoff round one year when the UFA Bisons and Calgary Buffaloes went to a multiple overtime. Was heartbroken to miss it. Playoff day is held on New Years eve. It is well attended until the Semi finals when people start to leave for their New Year’s party. You will always find my Dad and I, asses sore, in our orange seats, a back pack of food at our feet, right till the end of that semi final game. It is the best day, with the intensity level very high.
For the most part my memories are just a really awesome week with my Dad. A week where we get to hang out and be best friends. It is a little bit more exciting than christmas for me because it is one of the few times we just enjoy each others company. Over the years we have watched many fans come and go, but we are still there. Right at the top of the section behind the players benches, usually on the aisle. Tomorrow is the first day that creates a lot of excitement for the upcoming week. Here is to another year of a sore ass and some damn good hockey.