Blackhawks sled hockey season ends after the Disabled Hockey Festival in April, but for the second year I was invited to attend the Hendrickson Foundation National Hockey Festival in Minnesota. This tournament has all types of adaptive hockey (Sled, Blind, Warrior, Special) all in one weekend at the Super Rink in Blaine.
Last year the Alaska Avalanche was short players so they asked me and another Blackhawk to fill in. There were three sled tiers, and we played in Tier 1 but didn’t do very well. So this year they moved us to Tier 2. Except this year Alaska was even more short of players, so four of us from the Blackhawks filled in. In fact, four of the eight skaters were Blackhawks A team players. Knowing who we were bringing, we asked for Tier 1 again, but for some reason we were denied. The results were, well, interesting.
I’m hitching a ride with one of my teammates, so at 8:45 I leave home and head for his house. I’m about 45 minutes later than I expected, and this becomes a running joke the entire weekend. Everything that goes wrong is blamed on my late arrival. It takes about 6.5 hours to get from his house in Illinois to our hotel near Blaine, MN. We have dinner at Pizza Luce, one of several places we revisit from last year. The pizza is as great as we remember. After dinner we head to the airport to pick up another Chicago teammate, who had to work and couldn’t drive up with us.
Our hotel is one of those “Home 2” places. We have a big room with a sitting area, full size fridge, and a dishwasher full of dishes. We watch some playoff hockey and head to bed.
The hotel breakfast is underwhelming, so we head to Dunkin for a breakfast sandwich and coffee. Some of us take advantage of free donut day.
11am: Game 1 vs Carolina Hurricanes
In the first period it’s obvious we are in the wrong division. Our entire team is much faster and the puck hardly gets to our zone. The final score is 6-0. Not wanting to be jerks, we stop trying to score after about the first period. Still, the shots on goal are 40-2 in our favor. Their goalie is fantastic, and the only reason the score is so low. After the game he angrily tells our coach not to ease up on them next time.
After the game we get some food at Invictus Brewing, a cool brewery/restaurant right by the rink. We have time to watch some TV at the hotel before our next game.
6pm: Game 2 vs Sioux City
After one period we’re up 5-0. We ease up and try to keep our shots lighter but the pucks just keep going in. The final score is 11-1.
At the hotel we watch more playoff hockey, and get to bed later because we’ve got a later game tomorrow.
For breakfast we visit Fat Nat’s, a place Tundra recommended last year. Once again, the food is just as great as we remembered. We’re 3/3 so far with food. Next we grab a Caribou Coffee, head back to the room, and watch the Obi Wan Kenobi series before the next game.
3:15pm Game 3 vs Central Illinois Thunder
The Thunder are in our B team’s division so we know them well. Enough to know that the four Chicago A team players are going to have an easy time. They put up a good fight, and there is no score after one period. But we win 6-2 (though one of the 2 was an own goal – not due to me this time). Attending this game is our own Pope Jimbo, who is the third Glib I meet at a hockey rink (hat tip to Tundra and Grosspatzer). He is just as delightful as the rest. (Did I say that like we practiced Jimbo?)
For dinner we go to Big Bowl at the local mall. The food is great but there is a rather active mouse running from table to table. I’m still undecided if that would keep me from returning. Finally, it’s back to the room for more playoff hockey.
11:00am Championship Game vs Carolina Hurricanes
We’re back against the Hurricanes, and we decide to honor the goalie’s wishes and not let up. He’s still great, but the final score is 12-0. I get a hat trick and several assists. The trophies for this tournament are hand made, and this year we get a big wooden Viking sword that will head back to Alaska with our coach. Pope Jimbo is back to witness our victory.
Next we shower, take our teammate back to the airport, then return to the room to play some Nintendo Switch before we drive home tomorrow. Strangely, when I get out of the truck at the hotel I realize I have lost a shoe, probably at the Qdoba parking lot. This is added to the running joke collection.
Despite the lack of any challenge, this was nice way to end the season. The hosts do a great job at this tournament, and this year we had a perfect schedule. I got to play four games with some of my favorite teammates. During the weekend we all decided we’d put together a Blackhawks team next year and play in Tier 1. I’ve since talked to our coach and it sounds like he’s willing to pay for rooms. Next year Alaska’s loss will be Chicago’s gain.
While we’re done with games until October, the offseason continues. I’m still working out, and our team still skates twice a week. Before you know it I’ll be writing about another trip to exotic Peoria.