I was fortunate enough to play hockey at different levels, travel a little bit, and have some really cool experiences along the way. But despite playing AAA hockey against guys that went on to play in the NHL, the best experience I ever had in a tournament was in my first year of Midget hockey, playing house league.
Let's backtrack a moment. After playing Bantam AAA, I decided to spend a year playing house league because my older brother Cory was playing his first and only year of organized hockey. I was still in great shape and when the players hit the ice to be rated by the coaches, I stood out. The funny thing was, since Cory was a third year Midget player, he was going to be drafted with the rest of the third year players. We don't share the same last name since his mom married my dad, but one coach knew the connection and picked Cory first overall, therefore picking me along with him. How outrageous was this pick? Think about if Matt Martin was picked first overall in 2008, only for everyone to find out after that he was a package deal with Taylor Hall.
The best tournament I ever played in was that year, in Logan Lake, British Columbia. I can't tell you where it is because my dad turned down a side road off of the highway and drove for a while, and there we were. The town was small, a population of only a couple thousand, but it was a big weekend - there was the hockey tournament, plus a beauty pageant.
Hockey players and pageant girls. What could go wrong?
The craziest thing about the town was how invested they were in the tournament. Every game had an atmosphere like it was Game 7 at Madison Square Garden. People lined up around the glass, yelling and cheering every hit or goal occurred. My team was the favourite going into it, since we had a three forward lines that could score, and our goaltending was solid.
We ended up in the championship game against a team from Kamloops. I swear, the entire town came out to watch. You couldn't see through the plexiglass because there were people lined up all the way around. In the pregame warmup, one of the guys on my team skated up next to me and goes, "This is just like the Olympics!"
We ended up winning that game. The clock was winding down and I was on the bench, taking the whole scene in. Aside from our parents in their section, the rest of the people in the stands cheering and counting down the seconds was something I'll never forget. Hopping over the boards, ripping my helmet off and celebrating with my teammates while a packed arena cheered for us, getting even louder when we hoisted the tournament trophy, is one of my fondest hockey memories.
So yeah, I guess you could say it was like the Olympics. If the Olympics was held in rural BC.