Ten years ago after a school floor hockey game, a mother of one of Jake's classmates asked me if he would be interested in playing on a travel tournament style dek hockey team. We got more details and headed to Leominster that weekend to try it out. Jake had been playing ice hockey for 3 years at that point, but we had never heard of dek hockey or knew that it was actually played as a regular sport, like baseball or football, with a season of its own, never mind tournaments. That day opened our eyes not only to dek hockey or ball hockey or street hockey or whatever you want to call it, but that day we were introduced to Cyclones Hockey, which is a whole other kind of hockey.
There were never any tryouts for the Cyclones team, you were just kind of chosen and asked to play on the team, and your invitation usually came out of the blue and at the last minute, kind of on the down low, like on Sesame Street when the guy in the trenchcoat meets you in the alley, opens his trenchcoat, covered with letters and says "Wanna buy a C?' That was the invitation you got to be on the Cyclones, and you said "yes" or "no". There was no coach calling you begging you to play, you got the invitation, and you either committed or you didn't.
Our first year was kind of a blur. The coaches were crazy to me, a kind of crazy that I grew to love and appreciate, but a kind of crazy that I hadn't seen before in an organized sport. We traveled locally and started the season with a New Jersey tournament and ended with Niagara Falls. We would show up for the first game, usually only getting the game time the day before, and never knowing how many other kids would be there. I'm not even sure if the coaches knew. I still remember driving to New Jersey still with that wide-eyed kind of innocence where I didn't know how the whole thing worked yet, but the coach said to go and told me what hotel to book, and I just packed up the kids and went. The first games were always the toughest because we never had the full team, and then other kids would arrive or fill in from different Cyclone levels. The weekends were fun and competitive and a great bonding time for the kids and parents, as tournaments often are.
On our first trip to Niagara Falls, I was just leaving customs when my phone rang. It was the coach. "Where are you?" he asked. I told him I had just left customs. He said, "Get Jake over here." I asked why since our game was hours away, and he said, "I need him for the Cadets game." I said, "Jake is a first year Beaver." Jeff answered, "I know that. I didn't ask how old he was. I asked where you were, ok." Ok, and off we went to the rink, and my 10 yr old played in the 95 degree temperature with the five 13-15 yr olds who were there, and he scored the only goal that game.
I think that was when I realized that being a Cyclone was more than being a member of a team. It was a way of life. You gave it your all and left it all on the dek. Whether the scoreboard or the bruises said you won or lost, you gave it your all, and that made it ok, no matter which side of the score or the penalty box you were on. I never really heard the coaches spout off any profound words of wisdom or quote Vince Lombardi or Wayne Gretsky, but they believed in the abilities, skills and dedication of their players, and they didn't have to say much. I can remember when we first started, and I would say to Jake, "Jeff should pronounce his words more clearly. Every time he says 'Nice shift', I think he's saying 'Nice shit', and Jake said he was. Jeff liked the stick-handling that his players possessed, but to a point because if you did it enough that the ball was taken away from you, or you couldn't make your pass or shot, you would hear, "All right, your mother took the picture, pass or shoot." Penalties weren't discussed, and sometimes there was a nod as if these not so mild-mannered coaches understood the heat of the moment and the call that followed. And yes just as there were games that we played with 5 or 6 players, there were also games where we only had 5 or 6 players left because the others had been ejected or were sitting in the box.
We learned that the Hudson tournament was always very hot and always under the sun. We learned that Jersey was a great way to kick off the season and the spring and to pack shorts even though it was only early April because chances are you'd need them. We learned which Leominster refs to yell at, and which teams were good competition or physical players. We learned to stay away from the Falls district in Niagara Falls to save money on hotels, where the good go-carts were, and lots of free activities to fill up your time between games. We learned that the Niagara players, while talented, also play very physical and can be dirty at times. I remember one particular game where numerous fights broke out, where one of our players, tired of being pushed around and hacked in the ankles by his Niagara opponent, finally picked the Canadien up and bodyslammed him better than any wrestler in the WWE. Fun times!
Now Nathan and Allie play dek hockey at the level at which Jake started, and though they aren't Cyclones, I hope they get some of that Cyclone pride and determination in them, and that they always leave it all out there. And though he's now Jeff the Ref, and not Jeff the Coach, our family will always have fond memories of our Cyclone days and the game that we have grown to love.