For as satisfying as it is, I reserve a faint sense of disappointment after a hockey tournament—especially one we host. For all the prep that goes into it, all the hours at the rink, all the Monday-morning soreness and bruises and the faint smell of glovestink lingering on my hands, it seems too significant to have come and gone unheralded like it was any old last-minute get-together. So I herald.
It starts in the summer, when the Florida Women’s Hockey league board meets with representatives from the 14 teams around the state. They hash out revisions to league rules—who can roster for what level team, how many penalties gets you tossed out of a game, etc. (These are in addition to USA Hockey guidelines.) Various rinks present bids for the five major tournaments the league arranges, and this season, Ellenton got tournament No. 1: October.
After the league meeting, the leadership for our two Ms Conduct teams gets together to figure out budgets—how much each player has to pay to cover league fees, tournament fees, practices, etc.—and other season details. (This is eight women, three hours, and a couple of bottles of wine.)
Ice time has to be rented for practices—especially the ones to happen immediately, right before the tournament. The more the team gets together, goes through drills, practices systems, scrimmages, the more cohesive we’ll be in competition. What’s available to rent is a few 10:15 p.m. Friday slots. Late-night hockey practice signals the start of the weekend.
The week of the tournament, the FWHL board releases a game schedule based on the ice times the rink has provided. Two sheets of ice, 13 teams in two different divisions; each team gets three games, and those results determine who and when they play the fourth game, Sunday morning. (The fourth game determines first place, second, third, etc. for each division.) Games start Friday evening—taking into account that it’d be pretty mean to schedule a team from Miami or Jacksonville to play Friday in Ellenton at 5 p.m.—and run through Sunday morning. Two paid, USA Hockey-certified referees and a scorekeeper are scheduled for each game, and the rink schedules which teams will be in which locker rooms at which times.
In the meantime, the host team—ie us—puts together a fund-raising effort, rounding up donated items to be raffled off (and in this case, purchasing an iPad2 and selling $10 tickets for that, in the hopes of covering the expense and then making some profit, which will go toward team expenses). Did pretty well this year: Donated chocolate, pet products and golf-themed baskets, teammate-assembled “movie night” and “margarita” baskets, and more. All weekend long, volunteers from the team are needed to man the check-in table, where players sign rosters before every game, and where people can purchase raffle tickets.
By the time the hockey rolls around, everyone’s ready for a stress reliever. Gotta haul in your gear—between 15 and 30 pounds, depending on how wet it is—sign in, head to the locker room 30 minutes before the game. Tape your stick, sharpen your skates, put on shin pads, hockey socks, crotch protector, hockey pants, shoulder pads, elbow pads, jersey, helmet. Three-minute warm-up then three 12-minute periods. With the clock stopping at every whistle, games last between 45 minutes and an hour.
In front of the net, waiting for a deflection.
Set your pads out to dry as best you can after games (though they never really dry), and hang out in the meantime, cheer on your team in the other division, kick your feet up, get some food, take a nap, whatever. Saturday is an ant farm at the rink, so many players in and out, every team on their own schedule. When your next game finally rolls around, you do it all over again.
And again. And again.
And then on Monday, it’s right back to your other life like nothing happened.