Northern Exposure: Hockey Tournament Tales of Woe

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Northern Exposure-Hockey Tournament:CrossIceHockey.com
The New York Fire Ants: Top row, left to right: Gary Lehrman (No. 22), Defenseman; Mike Woltmann (No. 77), Defenseman; Gary Mayer (No. 19), Defenseman; Fred Sommer (No. 11), Right Wing; Kevin Fang (No. 8), Right Wing; Warren Tabachnick (No. 88), Alternate Captain, Left Wing; Frank Miceli (No. 31), Defenseman. Bottom row, left to right: Gary Halman (No. 4), Right Wing; Charlie Vento (No. 32), Center; John McDermott (No. 37), Right Wing; Brian Bavolar (No. 33), Goaltender; Rick Koh (No. 44), Captain, Center.

One team’s trip to Canada to compete in the hockey tournament finals proved to be a real adventure. The first of three parts.

 

By Fred Sommer

 

 

  • Carpool to the airport; parking; tolls: $40 (thanks to Gary Lehrman for the lift).
  • Round trip airfare + fuel surcharge: $259 (thanks to Gary Halman for making the arrangements).
  • Hotel room + breakfast buffet: $315 (thanks to Gary Mayer for making the reservations).
  • Mini-van rental + pre-paid fuel + collision insurance: $350 (thanks to Warren Tabachnick for arranging our local transportation.
  • Does anyone notice a trend here? Playing hockey in Toronto with your friends: PRICELESS!

This was my first road trip to the annual Hockey North America (HNA) championship hockey tournament. Last season was my first with the NY Fire Ants after playing in two summer sessions. The Ants did not qualify for the league Championship Playoffs in Toronto, but this year we enjoyed a much improved season and earned a trip north of the border as runners up in the New York D Division.

My trip began as I was returning from my usual morning dog-walk. My carpool partner, defenseman Gary Lehrman, had just arrived to pick me up. I loaded my gear into his car, kissed my wife and kids goodbye, and we were off to the airport. We arrived soon enough to find all of our teammates had or would make it on time and shortly afterward we were off to Toronto.

The flight was uneventful and then we all passed through Canada Customs in record time (with the exception of New York co-commissioner/defenseman, Gary Mayer. Gary, who is a vegetarian, qualified as an agricultural product and was detained until he could prove otherwise). It seemed to me at the time that Canada did not fear terrorism the way the U.S. has since 9/11 just by the absence of security. Once outside the terminal, we grabbed some luggage carts and hauled our gear to pick up our rental cars.

At the car rental counter, the attendants managed to fleece us for excess collision insurance and pre-paid fuel. If you thought gas was expensive in the U.S., they make you think it’s cheaper in Canada by charging you less money per liter. There are 3.89 liters per gallon and at the then rate of approximately $0.75 CDN a liter, well, you do the math; it’s even more expensive. To ease the financial burden, I commandeered an additional passenger in my van to divide the expenses among four of us instead of just three. So we piled our gear in the back of our brand-new Dodge Caravan with 6 km on it and Gary, Gary and Gary (NY co-commissioner/wing No. 4) Halman and I drove to the hotel.

 

Well-Endowed Waitresses

Since we arrived at the hotel before check-in time only a few of our rooms were available, one of which was the one I was sharing with our goaltender, Brian Bavolar (who was also doubling as the goalie for the New York Icemen, another team participating in the tournament.) A few of the guys stashed their luggage in our room until their rooms were ready. Most of our team then gathered at a local eatery for lunch. We enjoyed the food, the beer, and the pool tables, but were especially fond of the generously endowed waitresses. We raised our glasses and toasted each other in the hopes of a successful weekend—and that we would do well in the hockey tournament too.

After lunch, a bunch of us decided to head over to the Westwood Arenas, where the New York Ducks were playing in the mid-afternoon and Brian was playing there afterward. Several Fire Ants players were former Ducks and Gary Mayer was a Duck as well. We also wanted to familiarize ourselves with the route from the hotel to the rink for our game later that evening. Although there was a little traffic along the way, we arrived to see the second half of the Ducks 5-2 win. It was there that I found out that Mayer, one of our four defensemen, had severely injured his knee two days earlier. He would never leave the bench. It was then decided that if Mayer couldn’t play, center/wing John McDermott would go to the backline since we had seven forwards.

 

The Case of the Missing Goalie

After the Ducks win, we signed in for our later game and bought our commemorative HNA t-shirts. At 4:30, which was to be the start time of the Icemen game, I noticed Ducks goalie Jon Woodman walking out of the locker room and taking to the ice for the Icemen.

“Woody, where’s Brian?” I asked.

“Do you think this is the first time I’ve had to bail out his sorry ass?” was his response.

Whether or not it was the first time was irrelevant. Where was Brian? Now there was something else to worry about. After all, Brian and I had gone over the directions to the rink before we had left to come here. So now, we’re thinking maybe the rental broke down or—heaven forbid—an accident or worse. I actually started thinking Brian never left and was lying dead in the hotel room. I then quickly jumped in the car and rushed to the hotel room. Once there, I opened the door, and called out, “Brian?” (Not that I expected a response from a dead man, but at least I didn’t get an answer.) I entered the room and discovered that all of Brian’s gear was gone. So at least now we are back to breakdown or car accident. I then called the Roadside Assistance number given to us and asked if they had a record of Brian having called in. Nothing. So I called our captain, center Rick Koh, and he asked if we should start calling hospitals or the police. I didn’t think that putting out an APB was an appropriate way to mark the 10-year anniversary of OJ’s wild ride in that white Bronco, which was very similar to the vehicle Brian was driving.

As it turned out, Brian got lost. We found this out when we assembled in the hotel lobby for our game. He did not feel confident with the directions we had discussed and chose a different route, which was obviously wrong. He showed up approximately halfway through his Icemen game. Brian yielded only two goals but his team lost 5-2.

At last, the 7:15pm game time arrived. We were playing the Chicago Ducks, who boasted several scorers of 15 goals or more. The scouting report was correct as the Ducks led 2-0 on 2 goals by defenseman Chris Bermes before wing Kevin Fang would ring one in off the post to cut the deficit in half. That was as close as the Ants would get. We would go on to lose 4-1 and would never get on track. Maybe we were tired from our travels; maybe we had run out of any youthful exuberance since we had run out of youth; maybe it was because we hadn’t played together as a team in over a month and couldn’t remember how to be successful like we were during the regular season. We were not clicking on passes and not beating the Ducks to loose pucks. I was willing to bet that, with an average age of 46.5, we were the oldest team at the tournament. Whatever the excuse, we sucked, plain and simple.

After the game, we nursed our tired bodies and wounded pride over dinner at Outback steakhouse. The Drover’s Platter I had, which consisted of baby back ribs and chicken breast all smothered in barbecue sauce, tasted just as good the next morning. With dinner still resident in my gut, Brian and I went downstairs to the hotel restaurant for our pre-game breakfast. We both chose the buffet, which we will still be paying for until our next trip north.

[Don’t miss “Hockey Moms in the Stands,” coming soon in the next installment.]

Fred Sommer is Manager, R&D Engineer at a large pharmaceutical firm. He is captain of his rec hockey team.

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