Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Inside The Heart: Home of the Tough Guy: CHAPTER 3 - Lake Placid Here I Come!

CHAPTER 3 - Lake Placid Here I Come!

What does it take to be a tough guy in hockey? When do you decide that you have reached the point in your playing career where you must make a choice? Or are you still unsure? Its not an easy decision. Growing up and as a kid, scoring goals was always what hockey was about. But there comes a time when you realize, you may still score goals, but other guys are scoring more than you, other guys are starting to get more ice time than you, you need a challenge, and you need to find out if its in you.

15 years old and going on 16, high school glory days right there, and what better than to try out as a rookie for your high school hockey team? 81 players attended training camp, most of them 16, 17 and 18 year olds. As a 15 year old, you really got to prove yourself, or you will be sent packing quick. I decided I would carry over my power forward style I had utilized last season. But I was playing with kids my age then, now its different. The guys are older, bigger, and stronger. I busted my ass in training camp, and I think it was my hard work and aggressiveness with the older kids that did me well. I realized I wasn't scoring goals in scrimmages, but I was throwing hits and making a name for myself. I remember in a pre-season game against the one high school who had a big tough dude gooning it up, so of course, I decided it would be best for me to line him up when he had his head down, and smoke him in open ice. So sure enough, I got my chance, and BOOM, I hit him with everything I had. The crowd was going crazy and my teammates were too! He gets up and chases me down, I remember how angry he was, and then one of our older "team leader" bigger tough guy stepped in and took up the cause. I wasn't sure if he liked me, but sticking up for me, brought a smile to my face. So they battled in a pretty epic fight. It was so good someone taped it in the crowd and they played it at our school dance that week. So I had a hand in how that fight started, and I think I earned my keep that night.

What you have to understand is, their is no greater feeling in the world than having a teammate stick up for you and take up your cause, no matter what. Its goosebumps all the way. I loved that feeling so much, I wanted to stick up for as many teammates as I could, because I knew how they would feel. No matter what, you always thank them, and make sure they know you are grateful, that's important. Its a valuable lesson in life too. In a way, its like war, and you are soldiers in a war fighting for a cause, but obviously to a lesser extent. But the same characteristics and feelings are there.

The high school hockey team was one year of extreme fun and bonding with teammates. Not only did you play hockey with these guys, you went to school with them all day as well. You got team uniforms, jersey's with your own number you picked out, and your name on the back. You were like a hero at school. I of course chose #32 (in honor of Rob Ray!). I was one of three rookies on the team of 25 players. Fighting was frowned upon in the high school ranks, and anyone engaging would get an automatic 3 game suspension. If you instigated a fight, you would get 6 games! So safe to say, I wasn't really fighting this year, atleast not yet!

Our big tournament was the annual 64 team Lake Placid classic in Lake Placid, NY. Imagine being in a tournament of this size, playing on the Olympic size ice rink! It was a true hockey experience. Well our team finished around 50th place, but we had a great time. I remember playing against one team from the Boston area, and they had this husky kid, short but built huge, and he had #28 DOMI on his helmet, and wore #28. So I of course lined up beside him and he looked at me and I said, "Hey Tie Domi, meet Rob Ray, nice to meet you, I am sure we will be seeing a lot of each other" He looked at me and had to laugh. (This was in around 1991, a year or so before the epic Domi-Ray fight rivalry in the NHL even started). I always remember that.

The biggest moments of that season would come in the playoffs. We had won our local championship, so we went on to the regional round. We played a team about 30 min away from us, in a best of 3 series. Boy was it rough! We won Game #1 at home, and then it was time for the epic Game #2 in their barn. A lot of our buddies and schoolmates made the ride up in a fan bus, and they had their fans out in full force. The tension was high, and the emotion was even higher. I remember getting hit the hardest I ever had been hit in open ice with a forearm, and I flipped right over onto my head. I heard a ringing sound for about 2 minutes as I got to the bench and had to rip my helmet off right away. It was a weird feeling. Anyway, our team was losing by a few goals late in the game now, we were frustrated and all of a sudden, one of their guys speared our best player and hurt him. The ref didn't see it. But we did. The final horn sounded, a melee broke out on the ice, but finally the officials and coaches were able to break it up without anything major happening since we had the 3rd and deciding game left to play. The teams got off the ice, and then that's when all hell broke loose. That's right, OFF THE ICE, in between the dressing rooms in the tunnel area. It started when our guy who got speared was in tears from pain, and their captain had made fun of him from down the hall near their room, well our guy FLIPPED, picked up his hockey stick and threw it like a spear about 40 feet and hit their guy in the neck. Then they started to come out of their room to see what happened, and we all charged out of our room and everyone met in the middle throwing punches, elbows and whatever! I remember diving in with a big right haymaker, hitting their biggest guy right in the head as he tried to fight a bunch of us. A lot of their guys were hesitant to fight, and we only had a few of our guys who stayed in the doorway area, I remember our one guy was deep into their dressing room, and I remember going in there after him looking around ready to punch anyone on their team, then I get pushed back into the pile, and more punches flying. I only got hit once or twice amazingly, and dished out some big shots. I wasn't a major player in the brawl, but definitely was involved. I remember going from pile to pile at one point, it was chaos! We beat up about 8 of their players, and only one of our guys was damaged pretty good. Finally security, coaches, and arena staff broke up the brawl. We all had to get out of our gear, showered, and out of the arena in like 10 minutes. We got on our bus and were hurried back to our school. By this time it was around 8:00pm or so at night (the game was at 4:00pm). I remember us all charged up on the bus, some with battle scars, and such, but we showed we were a team, a close knit group of guys who really weren't that close early in the season. We were thanking each other, and asking, "hey who had my back when I was in the room and had those two guys pulling on me", then someone would say "oh I grabbed that guy and gave him a shot", and someone else would say, "did you see what so and so did when he had me pinned!". Even our head coach had to smile and throw in his two cents, but said we were going to be in deep shit with out Principal (a woman), and the School board.

Got off the bus that night, and walked home just to calm down. I was charged up still, the adrenalin flow is something else I tell you. It was a cool rainy night, I made it home in about 30 minutes, and was still huffing and puffing adrenalin. Finally got to sleep, with a smile on my face and eagerly awaiting the next day at school.

What a nightmare!! We were all pulled out of our first class first thing in the morning and put into an empty room. We sat there for a while, then the Principal and Vice Principals came into the room with a school board trustee. Oh fuck were they PISSED! What was even worse, was them looking at some of our battles scars. They lashed us out for several minutes, saying how embarassed they were of us, and how we gave the school a bad image etc. How they don't condone fighting, and will not tolerate it. Called us animals, you get it. They left the room, and we started laughing!! Our coach got in shit too, and he told us they were contemplating forfeiting the game and we would lose the series. We were pissed. So our coach managed to pursuade the School board trustee who pursuaded our Principal and Vice's that let them play this final game with stipulations. Our Principal had talked to the other school's Principal, and they were saying they have 8 beaten up students, and a rally at the school of schoolmates looking for revenge. Of course, we already had 4 buses of schoolmates ready to come out in case any rumbles started between the two schools.

So they decided the game would be played, but at a NEUTRAL site rink that wouldn't be announced until both teams were on their buses. Of course it leaked out a bit before and we were able to get some of our fans to the location, but everything was calm in Game #3. We lost the game and the series, and our coach just pulled us away from anything that night. Kind of uneventful, but the hype and buildup of a blood bath on the ice and with the fans off the ice, was worth it!! Nothing like hockey fighting and brawling to get school spirit going!

A few weeks later, it was announced that our high school suspended the operations of its Boys Hockey Team indefinitely. A couple years later, I graduated, and the team was still suspended. Now about 14 years later, still my former high school never reinstated the Boys Hockey team. I remember each year asking around, then I had a couple friends end up being teachers at the school, and they said they inquired but it was still a touchy subject. Even some 2 principal's later. We had a nice team picture taken in Lake Placid that year back then. I remember it, right at center ice on the Olympic Rink where Team U.S.A. won Olympic gold in the early 80's in the Miracle game. I look at that picture every now and then, when it needs to have the dust blown off it, or when it needs to be pulled out of a storage box it sat in. I remembered what we fought for. We didn't fight for our school pride or for show. We fought for each other, and that's how we would want anyone to remember us. I played on the last team that would ever serve that school, and to me, and my teammates....we went out in style, we went out as brothers, we went down with a fight, and we went out with dignity....and that's what few people can understand. People who don't understand the game of hockey and what it means to us as a person. People who think they can write articles on why fighting in hockey is bad, when they don't have a clue what they are talking about. Its like the same people who write about how war is bad, and why is it necessary. Well, their is a reason, I am not about to tell you, but their is always a reason. We have our pride, we will always have that, if nothing else...

1 comment:

Drew said...

Awesome story Huard!

As a former high school player (but only for one year at the JV level), it seems the bans on fighting just lead to bigger incidents, like the brawl off the ice that you mentioned. In my only year of playing, we had two full brawls (one on the ice in the playoffs, one off the ice in a Christmas tournament) as well as a near-brawl early in the season. Saw one of our guys get suspended for the off-ice one, but no penalties other than that. In addition, I've seen one brawl at the varsity level, and heard of about three other JV ones before I ever joined the team. But yet, no typical one-on-one fights.

Keep it coming!