Most hockey folk know there are three kinds of hockey games: the ones you win, the ones you lose and the ones you tie. But actually, there are three other kinds of hockey games too: league games, tournament games and exhibition games. Exhibition games don’t often make a lot of headlines in hockey, or draw a big crowd, but they’re an important part of a minor hockey season and all three of my kids have participated in many of them.
There are those exhibition games played before the season has even started; the ones where the coach is trying to make final decisions about a competitive team roster. These are very stressful for hockey moms. We exchange pleasantries about our summer vacations but leave it at that because we’re not yet sure if we’ll be on the same team. I don’t like these exhibition games. They’re like a job interview where the employer stares at you for ten minutes without asking a simple question. I don’t dare unveil my brand new noisemakers during these exhibition games.
After a team is set, the coach may organize a few more pre-season exhibition games to gel the team and settle the lines. We’re sad, though, that some hockey moms have now been cut from the team. Except for the trophy wife hockey mom; we’re not sad she got cut from the team (but we do feel bad for her stepchild). However, the rest now get to socialize and settle into their ice cold seat in the stands. It’s not yet time to worry about statistics, wins, or losses, so we gossip harmlessly and make plans for the away tournaments. Hockey moms love these exhibition games. We can finally show off our new hockey flasks – I mean, travel mugs - too!
The exhibition games I love the most, though, are the ones we play against a team with a story. Like the team from China that came to play the Bell Capital Cup or the team from New Mexico that played over March Break. It’s a testimony to the power of sport that these kids, clearly not raised on Hockey Night in Canada, share such a passion for our national pastime.
My daughter recently participated in a postseason exhibition game against a team of midget- and bantam-aged girls from Nunavik, Quebec. Twelve small communities comprising a population of about 12,000 make up Nunavik, north of the 55th parallel. Fifty percent of the population is under the age of twenty-one. Following his retirement from the NHL, Joé Juneau visited Nunavik and envisioned a hockey program that would see life breathed back into their under-utilized arena. He created the Nunavik Youth Hockey Development Program. Juneau shared with us the many challenges this large group of youth face in northern Canada. In participating in this hockey program, these Inuit hockey players are provided with all the equipment they need. All that is asked of them in return is regular school attendance and respectful behaviour – and showing up for practice of course. Despite the length of the winters in Nunavik, their organized hockey season is a short one. The team my daughter played against had been assembled the week before. One week of twice-daily practices and then a week’s travel, in this case to Ottawa, to compete in several exhibition games and the Kanata Girls Hockey Association annual tournament. I can barely manage to get my daughter to a rink on time that is twenty minutes away and here is a team that convened two weeks ago and showed up to a hockey game on time having travelled 1,500 kilometres. If that doesn’t deserve a hearty hip, hip, hooray, nothing does.
As the hockey season winds down in your association, there still might be ice available for an exhibition game (God knows there’s still snow on the ground in Ottawa so there’s got to be ice somewhere!). You should see about planning one - if not for fun, then for a story.
Three cheers for exhibition games – and for Mission: Accomplished!
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