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A Look Back

Posted by bobin sports

   When I was twelve years old…I was discovered! I was on a hockey rink doing what all healthy twelve year olds do in winter in the north, playing hockey. However, unknown to me, I was being observed by the trained eyes of a scout with the Montreal Canadiens organization. My life was about to be changed forever!

      Hockey was a game, my friends and I played on the frozen streets, ponds and open air rinks where a warming shack with a wood burning stove saved us from frostbite and a hot chocolate for a nickel gave us the strength to play all day in below zero temperatures. Most of all we were having fun doing what we would eventually do for pay. 

      Fifty years later, an energetic group of sweatshirt clad middle aged dads and moms with their children in tow, have brought the game back to its roots, at the  “Hockey Night in Cadillac”   Pee Wee “B” classic in the northern Michigan community of Cadillac.

      In mid-March kids from across the State of Michigan gather with their fathers and mothers to showcase their talents; committed athletes and devotees to the world’s most challenging game, ice hockey.

      Pee Wee “B” kids aren’t heading for college on a scholarship or major junior hockey stardom in a few years, nor are their parents obnoxious and devoid of manners.  Unlike the AAA Pee Wee travel teams this tournament is structured as a reward for families who have made the commitment to their child’s passion to skate, learn fundamentals and participate in sports to the degree that they are able. As a member of a team, competing in friendly games, acquiring physical and social skills, participate in youthful interaction and growing as a healthy contributors to society is the sole motivation these kids, parents and coaches have.

      The Petoskey Penguins, Southwest Michigan Freeze, Cadillac Vikings and KOHA Flames are unlikely names of future Stanley Cup champions, but you’d never know it by the intensity of play they exhibited over the three day weekend in the tiny Northern Michigan community. As a former professional player and coach I had a vested interest in the games, not as a scout for my alma mater the Canadiens but in my grandson and his dad who were taking part in the activities at the St. Patties Day Hockey Tournament taking place at the rickety hockey barn they call The Wexford County Civic Center.

      Hockey barns and open air sheets of ice are my choice of venues for all youth hockey games. Kids would appreciate the toughness they develop skating against the wind while freezing their cheeks as they make their moves while trying to avoid a center ice check or completing that finesse move upon reaching the goal.

      There were no complaints in Cadillac, only accolades from parents, spectators and kids alike for the volunteers who devoted their weekend to the best of all tournaments I have had the pleasure of attending.

      The rules were simple and straight forward, go play hockey and have a good time. Don’t worry about mistakes, you will make them, don’t worry about goals for and against, there will be both, don’t worry about the officiating, they’ll make mistakes too, but like you, they’ll be honest ones, and for goodness sake have fun and be a good team player.

      Cadillac Youth Hockey knows how to throw a party, eh, tournament--opening ceremonies where all kids and coaches get introduced. Who needs the “Joe,” (Joe Louis Arena-Detroit) when you get the same treatment in Wexford County Civic Center?  All parents shared in the applause for their team and every other parent’s team as well.

      Who needs a million dollar organ when you salute the flag as the arena sound system blares the National Anthem from a worn-out cassette tape that does the job; honoring our country.

      Each coach gets a key to his dressing room, but never locks the door?  No need here.  We’re all here for the same reason.  Many down state rinks need fulltime security policing the halls to protect against thefts and vandalism, but in Northern Michigan they don’t even lock their doors at night.

      There are five minute 4 vs 4 overtime periods and if still tied then another 5 minute 3 vs 3. They’re all sudden death, and with these kids a parent’s heart is sure to go into a-fib at one time or another.  You just never know at this level, and that’s what makes the experience so rewarding!

      James Whelan, CAHA President, said it best in his open letter to the attendees: “As President of the Cadillac Area Hockey Association, I would like to welcome you to our tournament. We will do everything possible to assure you have a pleasant experience here.” Jim, pleasant experience was an understatement; it was the way the game should be played and the way parents and gracious volunteers make the greatest game greater. To you, your association and all the volunteers who made us feel welcome; I say thanks from one grandfather who has never enjoyed hockey more than at the St. Patties Day Tournament in Cadillac Michigan.

      America, maybe the rest of us should consider bringing the “Hockey Night in Cadillac” experience to a rickety barn near our communities. Old-time hockey is not dead it’s just dormant, waiting for someone who understands the essence of the game to awaken another “Hockey Night in Cadillac” adventure. Even rickety old barns have a front row place in the age of modern technology.

      Who won? No one cared…A good time was had by all!

Bob Belliveau-Ferrin Lemieux
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