The players were fidgeting and shoving, getting impatient for the zamboni to finish so they could take the ice. It was to be a hotly contested match-up between two Chicago-area teams, Stallions vs. Leafs, both skating for tournament glory.
But the one thing you really noticed was just how cute these skaters were, not exactly the adjective grown-up hockey players would want applied to them, but just right for these seven and eight years old, weighed down with helmets, pads and gloves, many missing front teeth and not because they were knocked out in a hockey game but because their permanent teeth were coming in, smiling with their buddies, and getting some admonishments from the coaches to behave. So cute.
The setting was the Poppy Waterman Ice Arena in Wisconsin Dells. This particular tournament featured all Mite teams, lingo for the littlest guys. It was just one of many tournaments hosted by the rink's managers, Ultimate Tournaments, during the fall/winter hockey season. In fact, on any given weekend you can expect to see skaters from the Mite level through the juniors (juniors are players whose goal is to land a spot on a college team) coming from just about every state in the union to skate in Wisconsin Dells, a place known more for waterparks than frozen water. But to hear one of the hockey moms tell it, that's part of the draw.
Kathy Monahan is administrator for the Saddle & Cycle Hockey Club, the Stallions' home club, and mom to Mites player Gianni Baglivo. We sat in the stands with Kathy, asking her about her experience in the Dells, while being mindful she had a game to watch too. It was her family's first time in the area.
"This is like a mini Disney World," enthused Kathy. "I'm really impressed because there is so much to do here and everyone is so friendly. The boys were so excited because it was the Dells and all they're talking about in the locker room is the waterparks." She also mentioned how some of the hockey moms were eager to hit the nearby outlet center for some shopping.
Kathy pointed out a number of grandparents in the stands, along with plenty of player siblings. "We're having a team dinner tonight at Buffalo Phil's and we have reservations for 50. The kids have Monday off so it's a bit of a getaway for many of us."
The Stallions were coached by Mick Pyznarski, a veteran coach, and his college-age son Scott, a talented skater in his own right. When asked about ground rules for outside the rink, he said the boys would be allowed in the waterpark for the first time that evening – they had to conserve their energy for the games after all. The team was staying at Great Wolf Lodge, just blocks from the rink.
While the Stallions came up a little short after three periods, the sting of the loss didn't seem to last long. Within minutes of hitting the locker room, you could hear a chant of "waterpark, waterpark, waterpark" coming from the boys. As it should be. After all, they're just little boys, with plenty of time to chase that NHL dream.