Tournaments are a great way for teams to match their skills, often against teams outside their league. Here, in Jonquière, our Pee-Wee Tournament is famous and has been held for just over half a century. It’s a mostly-provincial tournament, bringing in teams from across the province of Quebec. Players from out-of-town are billeted with locals, there is entertainment throughout the week, there’s even a special song that is played each time a Pee-Wee scores a goal. It’s a lot of fun.
The 50th edition of the tournament, held in January, 2014, was a very big event, and it drew a team from just outside of Paris, France. Everyone in town knew that a team from Paris was coming. Everyone talked about it. Paris, so exotic! France, so far away! And they play hockey, too?! We need to see this!
Many spectators, and most of the local pee-wee teams came to the rink to watch the first match the French team played in, against a local CC team.
When their team came out on the ice, most of the local hockey moms started whispering.
“Look at those jerseys!”
Look at Those Jerseys!
Indeed, their uniforms were amazing. This team was dressed to the nines, even from the top row of the Sports Palace where the game was taking place, you could see that. Their colours were bright and their jerseys were covered with sponsors’ logos — including a Canadian flag and Quebec’s signature Fleur de Lys on their arms. They looked like the jerseys the Europeans wore in International play, like what you’d see at the World Juniors, or the Spengler Cup – the oldest international invitational hockey tournament. They were, somehow, different. European. Not at all like the flimsy jerseys assigned to our local teams.
And they had a full bench of players. And an entire section of supporters who followed them to Saguenay to accompany the team. All these people, coming all the way from Paris, France! We were impressed. From the looks of things, it would be a great game. Would our local team be able to hold a team like this?
As it happened, we should never have worried about a team from the land of hockey losing to a team from the city of lights. Our local team skated circles around them and, try as they might, the French team couldn’t keep up. They were out-everything-ed, from the skating to stickhandling to dekes. Always last on the puck, and bewildered with the speed of their opponent’s play, the French team was overpowered, out-manoeuvred and shutout. The Mercy Rule was enacted as soon as a 7-goal differential was made; as the last period was played, the clock did not stop.
The final score was 13-0.
They didn’t seem to be competing in the right group. In fact, they seemed to be more like the teams in our division – like a single lettered B-team, not a double-lettered travel team.
It hurt to watch.
It Hurt to Watch
As we watched their final game, the hockey moms from our team talked about what a bad experience it must be for them. We knew this would be their last game, and it broke our hearts. They couldn’t experience Canada like this. Not only would they be going back home without a win – without a goal – barely a shot on goal, even, the climate was at an inhospitable low. With the thermometer frozen at -29°C or colder for their entire stay, even the pursuit of any outdoor activities on the weekend in the Saguenay-Lac St. Jean region would be difficult.
I waited outside their changing rooms after their last game to talk to their coach, to find out if they would have time for a friendly game. Against our team.
He took my number and called me later that night. They could play against our team, and would love the challenge. They would be available on Sunday morning: that was the only free slot they had.
The hockey moms had a lot to do in a short amount of time.
Our team manager, hockey mom Rita Traboulsi, looked for ice time – and she found it, in a village not far away. Then she put the word out on our Facebook page that the Kings of Jonquière would be playing against the French. Could the players, coaches and parents be there?
Within minutes, we had the confirmations. Of course they could.
What else? We would need a ref who wasn’t busy with the tournament, as most of the officials were. Thankfully, one of my son’s great uncles was available and, by the time we gathered at the arena, a second ref had volunteered. Another hockey moms, Annie Vezina, volunteered to be the Mistress of Ceremonies: she introduced the players, coaches and refs at the start of the game took pictures. There were other volunteers manning the clock, and playing music during the stoppage of play, and in between periods.
It was just like the Juniors we’d seen playing on television the week before.
The head referee, Claude Cyr, called over the captains and coaches and explained that anytime he’d whistle for a penalty, the player who had been offended would get a penalty shot. Everyone agreed.
We had a crowd! Would we have a game? Had the hockey moms, the grandstand coaches, over-estimated the abilities of their children?
We’ve Got a Game!
Seconds after the puck dropped, we knew we had a game. The teams were evenly matched. They skated hard, and both were at their own level. There were shots on goal. Scoring chances. Penalty shots. It was a great game. The parents from both teams sat together, cheering all players on. The lines of partisanship, usually as distinct as the lines painted blue and red on the ice, had disappeared.
In the end, the French beat us 4-1. When the players lined up to shake hands, there were hugs. Then a group photo. The clapping continued. It felt like our kids had just played in the Olympics. We were proud. Of all of them.
After the game, some of us went out to eat. The players sat together, talking, sharing. Hockey had united them. The parents from the French team who had joined us said their children would go home happy. Their three-point win over our team, they said, would erase all memories of being beaten so badly in the tournament.
For the hockey moms, well, we felt good. Our kids may have lost the friendly game, but they had competed. And we knew the French team could now go home, carrying with them a great feeling about Canada.
And for our team, official or not, they had played an international. Even in losing, that felt great.