My Favourite Hockey Story
Story by Mark Komisar
The good stories stick out and get passed along almost like folklore, sometimes expanded upon or changed to fit a specific situation. In any case we have all experienced and enjoyed them if not for a laugh, a thought provoking conversation, or just a great story.
Well that is what I have for you here. A thought provoking story that will put a smile on your face, that demonstrates the leadership and character that the game of hockey teaches.
It begins in December of 1988 when the first European Hockey team from Litinov Czechoslovakia arrived for the Mac’s Midget hockey tournament. As part of their preparation for the tournament, arrangements were made for them to play some exibition games against Calgary teams as a warm up. The turnout for these games was very high as everyone was eager to see what type of team they were and how their game was different than ours. The first thing that became apparent when they came on the ice was the condition of their equipment, it appeared as if the only thing that matched were their jerseys. Certainly not to the level of how we would outfit our community teams, never mind a Canadian AAA team. Upon closer observation you began to see a few other items, such as many of them did not have matching gloves. By this I do not mean that the gloves did not match as a team, no. More than half the team had players with two different brands of gloves on with a rainbow of colour options and styles. Then you noticed in warm up they did not take any slap shots instead everything was a wrist shot. I later found out they only had a dozen extra sticks for the entire team while at the tournament.
They came to show us the game, not their uniforms. A puck control game that included all 5 players be involved with the puck, not very physical but generating opportunities on the rush as well as cycling. Much like what we have grown accustomed to seeing over the years at the world juniors.
Due to the length of time that the Czechs were going to be in Calgary, arrangements were made for the players to be billeted with hockey families so they could experience more of the Canadian hockey life. It turned out that the appearance of the equipment was not the only issue. When players were taking gear out to dry some of the billet parents got a look at the condition of the equipment they were using. We would not even consider sending any player on the ice with this quality of equipment. They were using shin pads that had cracks in them, pants that had thin sponge and very little plastic, (much like what we used in the mid 70’s); elbow pads that were homemade with hockey socks, plastic caps and tape.
It was at this time it came to our attention that no hockey equipment was available for players outside the national program and until you made that team you were on your own for gear. This was not only a cost issue but also availability as well. It seems that the only equipment available for these kids was all very old and used, they would continue to hand it down and trade based on what they needed. The player’s only thought was that they wanted to play and some protection was better than none.
It was at this point the hockey community of Calgary got involved and put out a call for equipment. Even our used gear was ten times what they currently had. This drive was arranged including transportation of the equipment back to their hometown for their community hockey program so more kids could become involved in the game. As for the players at the tournament, the billets took it upon themselves to replace equipment that was not safe or over used. I know that there were at least four players that got new skates for Christmas from their billets. I can’t even imagine how emotional and ecstatic they must have been.
Yes, they were a great team and they won the Mac’s tournament. Two days later Peter Nedved defected from Czechoslovakia so he could chase his dream of playing in the NHL. However that is not what I recall from that year.
For me this story is about the character of the people involved in the game. All sports claim to develop character and leadership in the young athletes but rarely do you get to see this in action. In this case we had some hockey people step up and fix a problem that was uncovered. They did not give any thought to the loss of any advantage our team could have had, or any consideration of the difficulty of getting the equipment into a communist country with corruption and its own agenda.
No. The thought was we have some kids that want to play so bad they will make due with anything so they can.
They may have been our competition, but they are also our brothers in this game and we were able to help.