Monday, November 21, 2011

We Are the Champions, Statistically, of the World, More Or Less (Part 1)

"I'M COMIN' OUT STEAMIN'!" Eli 10.2 was the first kid out of school on Friday because we were driving to Laredo for a hockey tournament. He exited at Mach 4, his backpack wheels smoking as he walked down the sidewalk. "LET'S GO!"

The Enthusiasm Engine.

It promised to be an interesting tournament. The two best players on Eli's team (besides Eli) were only eight years old, they were facing some very salty house teams, and Eli had just gotten his cast off two weeks ago.

What wound up happening, though, was much more than interesting.

The toughest team they played last year was a team from McAllen. It was basically a travel team that didn't travel--except to tournaments--and they played some house tournaments. That's how they wound up in the Austin tournament last year, averaging over 10 goals per game and winning by about the same margin.

It was ugly.

This year, their first game in the tournament was going to be against this team, and Eli specifically asked for the game. He wanted to be in goal.

"Look, this game may get out of hand," I said. "That's not what's important, though. What's important is how you respond. The score doesn't matter, and the last shot doesn't matter. Every shot is a beautiful battle, if that makes any sense."

"It does," he said. "I know exactly what you mean."

"So don't think about anything beyond keeping your head clear," I said. "You might pile up 40 saves in this game. Just stay focused and stop everything you can."

That's what I thought, anyway.

What I hadn't expected, though, was that Eli 10.2 would be like Al Pacino in Scarface, laughing on the stairway landing as 50 guys tried to kill him because they couldn't.

Kick saves. Glove saves. Blocker saves. Stick saves. Saves I couldn't even describe. 22 in all, many of them on breakaways, and only one goal allowed. We were getting outskated, but it didn't matter. He made one crazy save after another, as quick as any kid his age I've ever seen, and his team won 4-1.

I was walking past McAllen's locker room on the way back to take off his pads, and I heard a kid say, "That goalie had SO MANY saves."

Why, yes. Yes, he did.

Corpus Christi always brings a team to these house tournaments, but it's almost impossible for the kids to get ice time, so they don't have many players. Eli subbed for them last year, so when they needed extra players again, he was ready to go.

They were still outmatched, but he played hard for them in the next two games. In the first game, an 8-2 loss, he had a goal and an assist. In the second game (against Laredo), he started out on defense, but behind 7-1, the coach switched him to center for the third period.

Early on in the third, he was high-sticked near the net, and he turned around to briefly complain to the referee (which is something you don't do). He glided a bit as he talked, winding up directly in front of the net, and when he looked up, a perfect pass was coming his way, which he proceeded to bury.


After that, he started causing all kinds of havoc on offense, and momentum was definitely shifting. It was 7-3 when he got loose on a breakaway and scored again. 7-4. Then he set up a teammate with a pass right to his stick in front of the net--wide open--but he missed the shot.

After that, Laredo scored, and scored again. It was 10-4 in the last 5 seconds of the game when Eli got the puck, and he was on a breakaway. He shot--and scored--one second after the airhorn went off. One second away from his first hat trick.

"Dad, did you see that?" He said as he skated off.

"I did," I said. "Maybe you could've gotten that third goal if you'd argued with the referee again." He laughed.

The Corpus coaches and parents couldn't have been nicer, and Eli wanted to sub in their third game (that started at 8:30 p.m.), but with a 6:30 game in the morning with his own team, I thought that was enough for one day.

He was, of course, outraged. In a good way.

Tomorrow: the conclusion.

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