Last weekend a lot of attention was fixated on tournaments.
First was the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. So much excitement, so much hype in the lead-up.
Then so much devastation and depression for many when local favorite Gonzaga – the nation’s No. 1 ranked team and the West’s No.1 seeded team – first tripped over the curb a week ago be barely beating an upstart Southern University team.
And after the Bulldogs completely “zagged it” Saturday against Wichita State, those who did not hurl themselves off the nearest cliff or high bridge were left to find other diversions to fend off their depression.
The area also hosted the first of two weeks of the Pacific Northwest Qualifier volleyball tournament with an estimated 500 girls’ teams drumming up commerce in what the Spokane Regional Sports Commission cites as the event having the biggest economic impact – an estimated $5 million worth – of any sporting event in the area.
One other tournament also took place in the area last weekend. There was no television fanfare, but a mega-dose of nostalgia. And there was little concern or even discussion of basketball and nary a big or small screen in the place to catch a dose of March Madness.
For the 32nd consecutive year the Spokane Oldtimers Hockey Association staged their annual Spring Tournament at Eagles Ice-A-Rena on the north side of Spokane. Twenty-eight teams, 13 out of Canada and another eight out of the rest of the Northwest skated in seven different age and ability divisions.
Anywhere from 12-16 hours each day, players ranging from age 30 to over 70 shuffled in and out of the twin rinks, shimmied in and out of sweaty skates, half dry shin, shoulder pads, gloves and team sweaters.
Three games in three days, it made some players get sore and tired just thinking about that pace considering some who played might not have been in three games in the last year.
Many spent hours in the official beer garden. There they were not only able to replenish lost fluids – and maybe kill a little pain, too – but also help fund the Oldtimers’ long-standing mission to provide monetary assistance to area hockey players as they try to afford what is a spendy sport.
But what makes the event as popular as it is – the tournament has had a lengthy waiting list for years – is the camaraderie that is present throughout the weekend.
Across North America, and specifically Canada of course where the sport was founded, Oldtimer Hockey is both huge and unique in recreational sports. City after city north of the 49th parallel has long-standing groups of Oldtimer organizations that meet and skate. They foster future growth by engaging new players in their organizations.
One of the best-known Oldtimers Tournaments is found in Santa Rosa, Calif. of all places. That’s of course where Peanuts’ cartoon strip creator, the late Charles Schulz, lived in his more famous later years and started the Snoopy Tournament in 1975.
The Snoopy Tournament consists of more than 60 teams split up into different divisions with players from age 40 to age 75. To play in the Snoopy Tournament is a feather in the helmet of just about any Oldtimer.
The Spokane tournament has a simpler goal. It offers a time to renew old friendships and enjoy fun competition. Players who 30 and 40 years ago competed at a high level against each – dishing out elbows, slashes and the occasional punch – are now content to revel in trading stories and sharing a beer.
Because unlike other levels of hockey where players slam each other into the boards – and sometimes engage in fisticuffs – penalty minutes, or lack thereof, are used as tiebreakers should teams finish with identical records.
Spokane’s tournament still has a few players participating in the organization that were there in the beginning when the Oldtimers organization was founded nearly 40 years ago.
And for those who grew up watching the likes of Don Scherza, Dave Cox, Gordie Turlik and Dwight Carruthers bring a number of Allan Cup championships to the city in the 1970s, this tournament provides the opportunity to lace up the skates and be on the ice in the 60-and-over division with these former local icons.
Their talent gets spread out amongst the 4-team division, kinda’ like the days picking teams at the neighborhood baseball diamond.
While they might not have been as swift as they were in their pro hockey days, their skills are still quite remarkable. It gave players something to privately brag about if one was lucky enough to score a goal or successfully keep them from doing the same.
For those of us lucky enough to share the ice - or a story - with these men of a different ice age, regardless of the outcomes of games, this was a tournament that never really had a loser.
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.