TEAM RE/MAX CANADA Hockey, Adventures and Memories
By Ken Eddy
It is said that every Canadian boy grows up dreaming of playing in the NHL. Of being the hero scoring that overtime goal in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals. To be Sidney Crosby scoring the Golden Goal in the Vancouver Olympics with the whole world watching and the weight of an entire nation on his shoulders.
Now when you consider that there are approx only 800 players in the NHL at any given time combined with thousands of young men vying to get drafted every year, it is a tough dream to have come true. Sadly the vast majority of boys no matter how hard they may have tried, grow up to be men with their dreams of hockey glory unfilled…well maybe.
Personally speaking I have to confess that yes I was a typical Canadian boy with stardom in my eyes. Sadly there was only one reason stopping me from playing in the show, that being a lack of talent. However as a small conciliation I had always wanted to play hockey overseas, to tour and play in a foreign country, perhaps the old Eastern Block would be a cool place to visit. So in 1999 I started recruiting players, mostly from our annual RE/MAX hockey tournament that moves around Western Canada, plus a few friends of mine. Within a couple of months Team RE/MAX Canada was born and the adventures began in the Czech Republic in January 2000.
Through-out the years Team RE/MAX Canada has played in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Sweden, Poland, Slovakia, Austria, Latvia, Russia, Germany, Japan, England, Scotland, Ireland, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, Estonia and Finland. On every trip we were trying to fulfill our childhood dream of playing hockey, exploring new countries, having extraordinary experiences and creating great memories.
The stories, victories and defeats, all had a hand in the creation of unique memories that we will be with us to the final days of our lives, whether sitting in a rocking chair, relaxing in a lazy-boy or soaking up the sun in a beach chair all the while reflecting back on our glory days. Telling stories that have been retold, relived (and sometimes revised) dozens and dozens of times over the years.
Touring cities, small towns, enjoying the sites of the country-side, exploring historic ruins and modern architecture were all key aspects of our tours. Personally I was always amazed, if not down-right surprised, at which players were interested in a particular historical site and actively listening to our guide regale the turbulent history, the movement of armies back and forth through the territory and or the political upheaval involving monarchy, fascism, communism or all of them intertwined through-out the years. I was also equally amazed at the players that showed no interest at all, and it was not always the same players, further leading to my confusion as to what really made my fellow players tick.
“What time does the bus leave?” Is the most asked question during our adventures abroad. As much as I or the guide will announce the departure time, boys will be boys and men will act like boys as they digress into a 12 year old pack mentality resulting in no one paying attention, hence having to repeatedly answer the same question… “What time does the bus leave?”
Bus rides to the arena could be as short as 30 mins or as long as three hours with the same routines repeated time and time again on every trip. People that want to pay attention to the guide’s announcements sit in the front half of the bus and the rest sequester themselves to the back of the bus (yes, just like in high-school) with the side door located halfway down acting as the demarcation line between the people that are interested, and those that the history and geography facts fell on deaf ears since in their opinion were boring subjects that never lured their attention.
On the longer bus rides there is time for quiet refection, short naps, hangover recovery time and just old fashioned day-dreaming on how you were going to dominate the other team with your on ice prowess. But as we approach our destination the tempo picks up with a little AC/DC (or a compilation of tunes that have been carefully mixed by one of our players) blasting from the speakers helping us to get pumped up for the game!
It is always a miraculous engineering feat as to how our drivers manage to navigate the team bus through parking lots, down alleys and around the arena to get us as close as he possibly could to the main before grinding the iron lung to a halt. We are all creatures of habit and it is on full display when the players pile out of the bus, grab their gear (rookies have to suffer the agony of schlepping the stick bag which can be career ending heavy) and drag everything into the arena. Superstition perhaps but everyone has their favorite spots, if not mandatory, to sit in the dressing room (goalies are the worst) and we all select our spots carefully.
In small groups or as individuals we spread out through-out the arena complex in search of the sports store (if they have one). Also we all check the condition of the ice surface and boards since facility conditions can range from very good, so much that it can be utilized by a division one team, to down-right deplorable that so much so that if it was back home we would have burnt it to the ground years ago.
As game time approaches the sound level increases along with pregame rituals and mayhem building to a crescendo of noise fueled by the music blasting from a miniature Bose speaker system. Sticks being un-packed, sorted out, re-taped and lauded over for their approaching exploits.
The on ice warm-up can sometimes resemble Disney on Ice complete with costumed characters heading in a multitude of directions at the same time (one of our players skated for Disney on Ice for a few years so he can attest to authenticity of that). Other times it’s fairly organised and somewhat effective in warming up the goaltenders, putting some life back into our legs and getting a feel for the puck (hoping that it is not the last time you touch it).
Talking to the locals who are excited and appreciative that you have come to play in their town or being interviewed by the local TV station which are certainly great feelings that can boost the ego up to the lofty roof of the arena. But it is the playing of the National Anthems of both countries that is truly a highlight. When you consider we are just a bunch of friends traveling halfway around the world playing hockey for the sake of playing the game, one is flooded with pride hearing the playing of “Oh Canada” as you are looking up to the Canadian flag hanging beside the host country’s flag (every rink we have played in around the world had a Canadian flag hanging in it).
I have to write a special thank-you to our wives and girlfriends that join us on our adventures. They wear our matching sweaters in the stands (keeps them warm), wave Canadian flags, hand-out Canadian souvenirs to kids and perhaps sip on some wine as they cheer us on (wine is the great equalizer blurring the line between professional and amateur in regard to on ice performance). On behalf of the whole team, “Thank you very much ladies for your loyal support especially the times when things are a little ugly on the ice for us!”
Do we want to win? Of course we do, name a Canadian that does not want to win the hockey game! We have been down shockingly early in a game but have fought our way back to pull victory out of the jaws of defeat. We have been out-matched and out-gunned on several occasions falling far short of victory but we never gave up. I was told by one of our foreign competitors that he was impressed that Canadians never quit and fought until the final buzzer. For that I am very proud.
The post-game dressing room takes on a life of its own with a scene that generally looks like a merging of the movies Animal House and Slapshot with the entire floor covered with strewn equipment, cases of beer and other paraphernalia. Of course the music is cranked up adding to the pandemonium as we yell and laugh with one another reliving the games highlights, good or bad.
Every player will tell you that it is the small towns hours away from any major city that are the most fun to play in since a Canadian hockey team (any Canadian hockey team) coming all that way to play in their barn is a big thing for the town. Parents, kids and town mayors take in the event but it is the kids that truly make playing there special. Give one kid a hockey stick and you have 12 more kids at the dressing room door looking for sticks, hats, toques or whatever we have to give away (great way to build the fan support), both parents and kids are appreciative of our gifts.
In virtually every town we have played, we will meet the other team after the game for dinner, drinks and socializing. Warning, sometimes this gets really ugly when the locals break out the homemade juice that I am sure could fuel a fighter jet. It is not uncommon for players to be walking on the tables, hammering down shot after shot of the blinding booze giving toasts in broken English or semi-translated by a buddy.
This inevitably leads to our guide and bus driver having to make numerous attempts to break up the party and herd us back on the bus where of course the party continues all the way back to our hotel (as I had mentioned it could easily be a three hour rolling nightmare for the bus driver). Music, beer, wine, yelling, the singing our national anthem (only if we had won of course) and sometimes dancing in the aisle are par for the course but some trips are legendary such as our return trip from Weisswasser Germany back to Berlin. I was actually feeling sorry for our guide as it reminded me of a scene out of the classic TV show M.A.S.H when Margaret Houlihan screams “This is not a hospital, it is an insane asylum”.
Oh, you want stories? Details of late nights out and early morning returns to the hotel? Descriptions of after hour bars buried deep in old WWll bunker like cellars with imported dancers guarded by Russian mafia? Costly casino excursions chaperoned by seven foot tall gorillas that I am sure bury the bodies of the poor gamblers that are more than a few dollars short at the end of the night. Hotel room/hallway brawls that resemble an old Wild West show, all swept under the rug by the organised crime syndicates which happen to own the hotel and are more appreciative of our money than our civility.
There are countless stories and disturbing incidents (a lot I hear for the first time years after the occurrence) that you would have to be there to fully appreciate. I will not be penning them for you in these pages but if you corner one of my teammates, ply them with their favorite poison and ask them nicely perhaps they will divulge a tidbit or two but don’t hold your breath for all the facts and in-depth details. But if you do hear a story that sounds completely off the deep end, totally ridiculous and un-imaginably bizarre, it’s probably true, for some of these adventures you just can’t make up!
I must end this story now, I believe the bus is leaving.
Vegas here we come! Over my career I have attended over 25 annual RE/MAX International Conventions and enjoyed everyone of them! From the speakers, break-out sessions, entertainment and networking it is a world class event! Discover essential new skills, get motivated for greatness and celebrate 45 years of RE/MAX! This year’s R4 is packed full of sessions and events that will energize your business and set you on a path for an incredible year. And if that’s not enough … come rock the night away with a private performance by none other than Jon Bon Jovi and The Kings of Suburbia!