Alright for a 7 days I have turned my blog into a report on the Macs Midget Hockey Tournament. I have talked about a tournament of great hockey that is held in my city every year. I have been attending this tournament for somewhere around 23 years. But I think walking you through a day as the die hard fan at the macs is the last post in this years Macs run. Mainly cause I can.
On the average day of the Macs, it means getting up early for a day off. My Dad comes to pick me up. Before he comes he stops by the Tim Hortons and grabs us some coffee. I hop in the truck and we excitedly discuss the days games. It is usually about 8AM when I get in the truck for the 30 minute trek to the Max Bell Centre off of Memorial and Barlow Trail NE. Sometimes we have to use the time to make a few work phone calls, but mostly we talk about hockey. Try to predict the best games and figure out who is closing in on a playoff round spot. The nice part about being picked up is the truck is warm. Most years it is a little chilly outside at this time, the tires crunching in the snow in the residential area (snow farts as my Mom says). We drive through the white winter of Calgary towards our home away from home, the sun up and lighting the world around us. Full well knowing this is the only time we will see the sun for this week.
It is important to be a bit early for the first game (9AM), first off the parking lot is already starting to fill. The girls side starts Earlier so their fans are already inside cheering taking a number of the available slots up. If it has snowed the parking lot spaces are significantly diminished by the tapered shape of the main lot and the lack of raised markings of parking areas. The parents of the teams about to start playing have taken up spots, even the non-Calgary teams bring a large contingent of parents who drove down or rented cars. If local teams are up the lot is often busier with more parents able to attend. The scouts also have gotten to the rink and have absorbed even more spots. If it is a really busy game you would have to park at an off site location and shuttle in. Not bad if you are leaving after that game or midday but a huge pain if you have to stay till the very end of the night.
The other reason it is important to leave early it is important to lay claim to your seat. The Max Bell is the wonderfully hideous building. An old arena, that used to be single ice sheet, it is a red brick building. A number of years back they decided to renovate the metal roof area and picked this hideous and random red and yellow rectangle pattern. They are the colours of hockey Calgary but really there is no rhyme or reason to how they put this rectangles in. The front entry is split into two sets of automatic double sliding doors, to the right the entrance and the left side the exit. Enter the doors into an entry way that leads to another set of sliding doors about 15 feet away. Through that set of doors you step into the main foyer, a blue rubber floor is what awaits. To your right is the ticket booth, a small room with windows on front to purchase tickets from. A make shift souvenir stand is setup directly ahead. A back wall to the stand made up of metal wracking with a sheet hung over it and a couple of fold out tables. To your left another fold out table has the ticket takers waiting in chairs (really they just look at passes as a deterrent) and on the table will site the small fold out newsletter called breakaway. Often when you arrive early it is still the previous days copy sitting on the table. After you pass through the ticket area you walk past a concession on your right, to your left the cinderblock walls, painted blue and white, that separate the seating area from the lobby. This area is actually at ice level and below the seating. Straight ahead is a set of stairs that make an L going up a wall. The stairs are very wide and separated in the middle by a wood railing. This is the stairway to my heaven, the seating bowl with its awful orange seats. We are here early in hopes of getting our seats against the railing behind the visitors bench. I don’t know why we decided these specific seats but these are the ones we want. You can find us there all week. Most days we successfully acquire these pleasant folding chairs, somedays we have to wait until a game ends and some parents move out. Thats ok we have a few backup spots.
When we get to the seats some important things have to happen. First off we put down the backpack filled with our food. We usually give it its own seat. My Mom makes us sandwiches and my Dad packs the snacks from home into the bag each night for the week. Next the seat saver goes down. What is a seat saver, well it is the extra jacket I have brought in tucked under my arm. As the seating is rush you have to plan to save the ones you want. There is no way the rest of the day can be done without using the washrooms so a seat saver is necessary to make sure you have a permanent home for the day. I have a lot of track jackets from different coaching gigs, and I am no stranger to putting on wait so many aren’t flattering as wearables, but make great seat savers. Now that the seat saver is in place we can sit down. The game is probably still 15 or 20 minutes away so quickly flip open the breakaway magazine and read through what is in there. For volunteer work it is a great read, actually it is a great read regardless, the volunteers do a great job of it. One year my Mom edited the Breakaway and I contributed a daily section (much more refined than this blog thanks to my Mom’s editing) it was a good amount of work.
The rest of the day is going to be 5 repeats of the exact same thing. The players come out for the ten minute warm up, I go through the list of players who are on WHL protected lists (thanks to Alan Caldwell’s blog). From there the game starts and My Dad and I banter back and forth about the game. Admiring the great plays and great players, watching how the coaches interact with their players and chuckling a little at the couple of crazy hockey parents. Each game is the same. A quick walk to the bathroom in the odd intermission and maybe a peak at the action going on in the connected rink hosting the girls tournament but no other changes. We sit there game after game.
Finally the last game ends, somewhere between 10:15PM and 10:30PM. We collect our backpack, programs and seat savers and head out. Usually the parking lot has emptied out a bit by this time of night, few people not connected to the teams or absolute die hards chose to stay that late. We walk through the cold to the frozen vehicle and fire it up to go home. The past couple of years my wife has attended the final game of the day and she is my ride home. As My Dad and I part ways we confirm the plan for pick up the next morning.
I get home somewhere around 11PM, heat up some leftovers and sit down for a dinner. I flip open my magazine and grab the computer. I look at the scores online from the other arena and start to get excited for the next days games. Seeing which ones will have pool winner implications and which ones might be a little on the downer side. In the past few years I have been lucky enough to get to know the coaching staffs of 3 of the 5 Calgary area teams. I always like to circle their games so that I can quietly cheer for the guys I know. We don’t really pick teams to cheer for but coaching is a bit of fraternity. When you get to know a guy or his family you always want to see him have success. It can be lonely cause parents suck and everyone thinks they know better, so I figure someone should be their fans too. After I have completed my leftovers and reviewing the upcoming games I wonder up to bed around 1130PM. Hop in the shower, curl up with my wife and we talk about our days. Mine is short because it was just hockey, she actually has a life. This year I added blogging to that. Finally I get to sleep and grab somewhere between 6 and 7 hours of rest before it all starts again.
Some tips for those thinking of participating in the Macs diehard program.
1. Get a seat saver
2. I don’t drink coffee for the rest of the year but you are going to need it this week. It is warm on the hands and the caffeine helps
3. Don’t pick a team to follow they will undoubtedly lose their first 2 games eliminating themselves.
4. Don’t care about who plays just enjoy the games, and when the games are bad remember a good one might be right around the corner.
5. Enjoy the talented players, I have been lucky to see some of the best.
6. Don’t worry about bad officiating that is part of the Macs tradition.
7. Get used to a sore ass, the seats are hard.
8. Don’t plan to eat rink for, first off it is crazy expensive and second it sucks shit. Plus if you eat it all week, you will get sick.
9. To stay from beginning to end bring a fried (a Dad is perfect) and a book to entertain yourself.
10. Remember these are the best seven days of the year and savour every minute.
My whole childhood I dreamt of being a participant in this tournament. I sucked at hockey and wasn’t going to make it to this level. I envy the players and coaches whose name are in the programs I keep, they are living my dream. But I realize that few people experience the Macs the way I do and I actually get to live the dream each year for seven days. See you at next years Macs.