One thing I learned after the Jets left town so many years ago is that the hockey world does not begin and end at the NHL level.
In fact, if you look hard enough, junior games can be just as entertaining.
Last night, for example, the Winnipeg Saints, or “The Saints” as they print on their handouts, took on the visiting Dauphin Kings in Game Two of their best-of-seven first-round MJHL playoff series.
The hockey is certainly not NHL calibre, but being at the grassroots level of the game can provide plenty of fodder for an imaginative mind and stories to remember. This night was no exception.
I was in attendance, along with 471 others at the St. James Civic Center, the rink where the Hot Line stepped out onto the ice as a trio for the first time. The crowd consisted mostly of parents and the odd girlfriend, many of whom made the trek from Dauphin, a city I visited in the summer of 2010.
Once I got in, I felt like I was in a small town. Everyone knew everyone else and I thought I was going to be asked “What are you doing here?” I’m obviously not a girlfriend and I’m not a parent or guardian of any of the players.
I took a few pictures during the warmup.
Once I took my seat near the Dauphin bench and took out my notepad, Kings’ coach Marlin Murray looked up at me and pointed me out to one of his assistants. Perhaps he thought I was a reporter, or even a scout.
This could have been a real-life imitation of the infamous scene in the classic movie Slap Shot, where Joe McGrath walks into the Chiefs’ dressing room and announces that there are scouts in the crowd.
I could just hear the word, “Scouts” from the late Paul Newman’s mouth as Murray and his assistant spoke.
I’m sure he’d be disappointed to learn that I was neither a reporter nor a scout, but there was a media presence there. I did recognize Christian Laughland of CKDM radio in Dauphin, who writes a blog on the Kings at http://dauphinskingdom.wordpress.com/
He looked younger than any of the players he was covering.
Meanwhile, I was glad I wore a warm parka. I think it was warmer outside than it was inside the rink.
During the national anthem, I noticed that the Kings’ players had dyed their hair blond down the middle. I presume it was some sort of playoff ritual. Across the rink, a couple of the Saints had their hair dyed red.
The game itself featured a lot of hostility between the two teams. A brawl may have erupted if the benches were side-by-side, as they are in NHL arenas. They played the previous night in Dauphin, with the Saints winning by a score of 5-4, and there was a lot of carryover. In particular, Jesse Synatynski of the Kings had a multi-shift verbal battle going with Brett Chartier of the Saints, who later laid out Tanner Butler of the Kings with a head shot that knocked the poor kid’s helmet off.
Neither adolescent referee elected to penalize Chartier on the play, who seemed to take pleasure in his handiwork. Butler, meanwhile, had to be carried off the ice, and I doubt he knew what city he was in. I was surprised to see him later return to the game. Even if he was deemed fit to play, with all the concern shown for players with head injuries today, I would have thought there would have been a rule prohibiting his return after such an injury, especially given that this is junior hockey.
The Kings rightly took exception to Chartier’s hit and ended up being penalized for it. The Saints scored what would prove to be the winning goal on that power play.
During the game, the nets became dislodged so often that I could swear that a good fart from either goaltender would knock the net off the pegs. For all I know, it might be commonplace for all MJHL goaltenders to eat a healthy portion of beans before the game.
Before the second period
The Saints controlled the latter half of the game and were full value for their 4-1 victory. Near the end of the game, the Saints’ players were taunting the Kings’ from their bench and I suspect tempers will be boiling over at some point during this series.
All in all, it was a worthwhile evening, but I imagine it was a long bus ride back to “Big D” for the kids and their parents.