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THEY WERE the best Peewee hockey team in Canada. We . . . weren’t.
That’s pretty much all I got out of the pre-game PA announcement. Oh sure there was more to it, the organizers didn’t delay the tournament’s opening just to boast. They were genuinely proud of the local team — and rightly so.
We didn’t care. Didn’t care how good they were. Or even that they’d been selected to travel to Europe and represent Canada. We’d just driven over 200 kilometres, through a snowstorm no less, and all we wanted was to play hockey.
Eventually, after each member of their team was individually announced — including all five coaches, three trainers, and two managers — and the ceremonial face off held, complete with posing for commemorative photographs, we did.
The puck dropped and ‘the best Peewee hockey team in Canada’ didn’t know what hit ‘em.
I watched it all from my usual spot behind the glass. Wheelchair parked as close to the ice as I could get.
It was beautiful. Every guy on our team played their absolute best. The passes were crisp, the shots accurate, and the body checks crushing. My brother even scored the first goal — a seeing-eye wrist shot from just over the blue line. I swear I nearly went hoarse from all the cheering.
Needless to say they didn’t take it well.
The game got ‘chippy’ in the third period. Not that we minded. We’d put it out of reach by then, five or six to one, and we were from Northern Ontario — hard-nosed hockey is what we like best.
Still, when the game was over our guys left the animosity on the ice — too bad they couldn’t.
They caught us outside our hotel the next morning. We were in the midst of a heated game of parking lot road hockey. I was in net — my wheelchair might keep me off the ice but, being big and wide, it proved an advantage at stopping frozen tennis balls — and saw them first.
“Uh, guys,” I called, nervously.
Sixteen unhappy looking pre-teens (I counted) marched up to us.
“Coach says we got to get our pride back,” one said.
“You can’t embarrass us like that. Not in our own arena,” said another.
Our guys weren’t about to stand for that. Three of the tougher players on our team found their way to the front. “What are you going to do about it?” our captain, Gary, asked as the others lined up behind him.
Things could have got ugly. They probably would have to — if I hadn’t I stopped it. Or rather the snowball I threw stopped it.
I’ll admit right now that it wasn’t my best snowball. I didn’t take the time to pack it tight or choose the exact right snow. But for all that, it still exploded on contact, spraying across the chest of their leader in the most distracting way possible.
The snowball fight that followed was, quite simply, the stuff of legends. Before I knew what was going on bodies were running and diving, parked cars became cover, and foul language flew back and forth with each snowball.
I, thanks to my wheelchair, couldn’t keep up. The battle moved past me, growing more intense with every passing minute. Before long it had escalated into a snowball war.
The hotel manager came running out, arms waving and shouting, “No, no, no — stop this!” But he was driven back inside by a two-sided barrage. Things had gone past the point of no return. It would take more than a poorly dressed morning manager to end the hostilities.
Sitting there in my wheelchair I recognized a sad truth — the snowball fight wouldn’t stop until someone got hurt and maybe not even then.
That’s when the police arrived.
None of us heard the siren approach. The first we knew of their presence was when the squad car drove in, lights flashing, and stopped between the two warring sides. A last few snowballs sailed, but even those half-hearted throws stopped when the uniformed officer got out and, glaring at everyone equally, said, “What’s going on here?” It wasn’t a question.
The home team smiled — cocky smiles. They clearly figured that we’d get the blame. We were out-of-towners and they were “the best Peewee hockey team in Canada.” It was clear they thought it a “no-brainer.” The local police would take their side.
I, far enough back to avoid official notice, reached the same conclusion.
Something had to be done. But what?
Once again a snowball averted disaster for us. Another hurried throw struck its mark. I hit the cop square in the back of the head, knocking his furred cap clean off.
He turned in the direction of the throw and, frowning, demanded, “Who did that?”
Sitting there, looking harmless in my wheelchair, I put on the most innocent expression I could manage and pointed — right at “the best Peewee hockey team in Canada.”
The police officer followed my finger and turned on the locals. “All right boys,” he said. “Time to go talk to your coach.”
In the end we were still asked to leave.
The police escort seemed overkill. Bad enough we forfeited our chance at winning the tournament, but to be treated like criminals that hurt. Needless to say the bus ride home proved uncomfortably quiet.
As for “the best Peewee hockey team in Canada” they didn’t end up going to Europe after all. Too many players were stuck in their rooms, grounded.