An Ode to St. Johns, NL #R2W13

Mock-up 1

So my last blog ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, just before face-off of our first game v Cayman Islands.  I’ve got so, so much to write about so I’ve been playing around with different ways to get this done.  Since ther is so much, I’ve decided to make this blog about the overall experience, touching on certain aspects or events, but not diving full-on into every little thing.  I’ll give my thoughts and try not to ramble too much about everything.  For more insight though I will be compiling a longer account of the trip and every part of it, which will have it’s own special page on this site for to peruse for ever and ever!  It was all an amazing experience so I hope that I can get that across to everyone that will read this and the full page (coming soon).

Before I start, I just want to thank everyone on and involved with Team GB and Ball Hockey UK, it has been an absolute pleasure being involved with this experience from the first trials to the last person out of the airport.  I’d like to thank the ISBHF and CBHA for putting on such an amazing tournament, and the wider Ball Hockey family of teams that we played, met and partied with.  Those guys and girls made it even more amazing to be involved in my first (and hopefully not last) World Championships.  The people of St Johns were the most gracious and appreciative hosts I’ve ever encountered, coupled with the enthusiasm of Kris Abbott, made us in the Team GB camp feel like celebrities.

The biggest thanks of all goes to you guys though.  The people at home that supported through every game and every day, letting us know how proud you all were of us and pushing us on through sheer force of will.  Be you from the Dekstars, Wildcats, Sharks, Wolves, Millionaires, Jets or Storm.  Friends and family, readers of this blog and any amount of followers on Facebook and Twitter, you all helped to make it the trip that it was and I’ll be forever in your debt for that.

The Hockey

The months and months of training, leagues, tournaments and sessions were all leading up to this period of (minimum) 6 games in 7 days, against some of the best Ball Hockey players in the world.  I’ve talked about my hopes for the tournament in previous #R2W13 blogs, so we all know that I felt good heading into them, with a lot of good form (Nationals notwithstanding) behind me.  Many people think that because we’re in Pool B, the group should be a cake-walk.  Teams like Israel, Armenia and Bermuda should be ripe for the taking I hear you cry.  What most people aren’t aware of is that Team GB is one of a few teams (including powerhouse nations like Slovakia, Czech Republic & Canada) whose roster is mostly filled with people from said country.  Not counting a few players, we were essentially playing 5 games against Toronto!

The whole team had notions of what we were wanting to achieve, mainly to build on the success of the previous two years, competing in a Bronze medal game.  We did have a depleted squad due to injuries or players pulling out but we felt that we were still a tight unit.  Our first game, against Cayman Islands, didn’t go according to plan.  It took us a while to get used to the playing surface and before we knew it, we had been sucker punched into a 3-0 deficit.  We rallied back and were, at times, more than they could handle, but their ‘keeper had an outstanding game and they held out for a 4-1 win.

With the way we finished the first game, we knew that we would be able to impose ourselves on other teams and we set out to do just that and bounce back against Armenia.  Our hockey started flowing and goals started flying in.  All three lines caused problems for the Armenians, who played with the same style and pace as the Caymans, but it was our day this time.  The surge of energy we all got at the final buzzer, singing the National Anthem on the blue line was amazing and we wanted to kick on from there.  Our third game against Italy stopped us in our tracks.  We were two teams matching each other shift by shift, until we started conceding penalties, to which Italy duly punished us with goals (one of which was a sublime pass-play between four players that not many teams would be able to snuff out).

Bermuda followed the same pattern as the Italy game, punishing our poor discipline, not letting us gain much of a foothold in our last game at The Glacier in Mount Pearl, home to the silver-tongued commentator and honorary Team GB mascot, Kris Abbott (more on him later).  Our game with Israel coincided with our move to the main venue, The Jack Byrne Arena, and we hoped that it would bring about a change of fortunes and the outside chance of putting us in a potential medal position.  Unfortunately, our luck was against us yet again but we still managed to keep it close until they took their final two-goal lead with under two minutes left on the clock.

We knew because of other results that our game v Hong Kong would be our last of the tournament so we wanted to go out on a high, giving all our viewers back home something to cheer about, hoping that our Girls would spur us on (they were scheduled with Slovakia while we played Israel the day before) so we gritted our teeth and made one final push.  It was a tense game with little margin for error and after a lot of emotion and effort, we broke ahead with a two-goal lead that wouldn’t be overturned.  As happy as we felt at the final buzzer, we knew it was a bittersweet victory so it was still hard to take.

I’ve just quickly flitted through those games, but I’ll go into more detail with each one in the bumper page I’ll be creating.  You can also do some homework yourself, if you weren’t watching in the stands or from home anyway, as all of the games have been archived on the 2013WBHC Youtube channel for your viewing pleasure!

From a more personal viewpoint, there was a lot of time when I didn’t enjoy the hockey.  I don’t want to say too much about it though as it may seem like sour grapes, but I must stress that I still feel immensely privileged to have been selected to play for Team GB, and will always extend my gratitude to Coach Matt Darlo and the rest of the team.  I enjoyed myself against Armenia as we got to play a bit more of our style on the 3rd line and got a little more time on court.  The opposite can be said against Cayman Islands where I was gutted not to get more time on court, and in our final game against Hong Kong, when I had a nightmare game and wanted a hole to swallow me up.

It was a hard thing for me to deal with and sometimes I retreated into myself more as I got more frustrated.  The guys and girls were amazing with all of their support for each other  and it helped me remember that we were there to support each other and have a good time, while also playing hockey.  My confidence waned as the tournament went on but we were still there fighting for each other, so you just have to sacrifice yourself for the main goal, and that’s what I did.

With all that support flitting around, I wanted to make sure that I was there as much as I could be for our Women’s team, be it in the stands cheering them on or helping out on the bench.  Our girls played their hearts out in every game and deserved to take more than 1 win away from the tournament.  The effort that they all poured into each game, through bruised and battered bodies, is testament to the will and pride that we all felt wearing Team GB colours.  Consider also that they played the top 3 teams in the Women’s game in Slovakia, Czech Republic and eventual champions Canada.  A harsh 3-1 defeat by a majority-Canadian Greek team was a big blow, but they bounced back and defeated them in OT in their last game to finish above them overall in 7th place.

I could go on and on about the pride we all had watching each other play, but that will all bleed into my last segment about the family that we formed in Canada.  Also, if you want to see any of the interviews with Team GB, check out the youtube channel of Adam McReynolds who has done a masterful job of uploading them all.  I’ll save any more hockey related chatter for the page so I’ll move onto our gracious hosts in Canadia (it’ll never be forgotten Joy)!

The Hosts

Newfoundland is an amazing place and walking around St Johns was like Cheers, only everybody wanted to know your name!  The moment anybody saw you with some Team GB merch on, they were always wanting to stop and talk, welcoming us to St Johns and asking what we were up to.  There was actually one instance as some of us were walking over to Marios one evening to watch the playoffs before dinner, a local pulled into the car park we were walking through, from the main road, just to pull alongside us and shout “HEY! TEAM GB!” before launching into a conversation about what channels we could watch the hockey on and wishing us the best of luck, tooting the horn as he pulled back onto the main road.

It may sound like a cheesy tale, but this was happening everywhere, with the locals being genuinely happy to see us and talk to us at any opportunity.  Cars tooting as they drove by us, even getting high fives from passers-by!  It came as a bit of a shock to us all just how accommodating everyone was and took a while to get used to.  Even just crossing the road was a new experience with cars stopping to let us over, no matter how many of us or how many cars behind them…over 6 lane roads too!  The people definitely made the trip, but Newfoundland is itself a wonderfully beautiful place.

Wether it was wandering along downtown past all the little shops and bars to the hustle of George Street, or a morning-after headrush walking up Signal Hill and around the cliffs facing out to the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean.  Trying to imagine the views that sailors and expeditionaries were met with as they approached Newfoundland beggar belief.  The heritage of the place also doesn’t shy away from their seafaring roots and every ‘proper Newfie’ sounded like they had just gotten off a flight from Dublin.  Irish music was filtered out of every shop door and George Street was a hive of activity on an evening, everyone weaving a merry jig down to the next Irish bar in line.

One of the main protagonists on our journey was Kris Abbott, a Newfie lad with a hockey history that was commentating on all of the games up in Mount Pearl.  He took a shine to Johnny Tulip’s name and everything rolled on from there, led by our roves of supporters back home taking to the Twitterverse.  Every time we were in the building he was bigging up the GB contingent, claiming his very own GB Tulip jersey that he hung from the rafters.  Playing in the games, I didn’t get the commentary experience, but I caught wind of it on twitter and things started heading to and fro between our support, ourselves and Kris.  His standard player interviews during games were hijacked by Team GB in a show of mutual admiration.

Kris made the experience more fun for us out there, and judging by the droves of tweets and e-mails, virtually made the tournament for all the folk back here too.  Many drinks were shared on the last night at the tournament’s closing party, and he’ll still have fans for years to come.  What are the chances we’ll be seeing him over here sometime soon?

I’m now also proud to be an honorary Newfoundlander now after being ‘screeched in’ with the majority of the Men’s team after our final game (the Women’s team went through the process on the final night) and can only hope that people think as highly of us when they visit as we did of them.

The Family

The single most amazing thing to come out of our trip to St Johns is the family that we formed while we were out there.  In the lead up to the tournament we had gotten closer as a unit, but the extent at which we bonded was beyond anything I could have imagined.  There were always groups that could have split away with the Mens team having a strong Nottingham contingent, similarly the Women’s team with all the North-East girls, but all the group divides melted away and we became one unit, Men’s and Women’s teams together.  I’m trying not to sound geet soppy but I don’t think it’s working!

The enthusiasm and joy that was exuded from the Girls always helped to lift the guys after a hard performance or a tough loss, and the same would apply for us towards the Girls…not that they ever really needed picking up after a game!  I was worried that, as much as I always felt part of the team, I wouldn’t be able to go out and talk to everyone, yet I could sit with anyone out there and hold a conversation for hours.  The amount of stories we could all tell could fill the yellow pages.

By no means was this trip a series of ‘stag & hen parties’ and we took our roles deadly seriously.  We did our best on the court so when we did party (with no games the following day) we took that seriously too.  One night of karaoke domination will live on forever in our memory, and in the memories of locals too I’m sure!  Classics were belted out including Scott & Jay singing ‘Summer of 69’, the Men’s team rendition of ‘Wonderwall’ and many more.  Banter was thrown all over the place with memorable instances as “I will paralyze you”, “two-year, ten-year” and something that can only be described by rubbing your hands together and blowing on them (courtesy of the Billingham girls…to the disdain of Ash).

The larking around and support on court led to some real friendships being reinforced and others created.  The invention of the compliment envelopes by the Girls was a stroke of genius that allowed people to leave comments.  Some people took it upon themselves to put funny comments in there, but most were heartfelt opinions and messages that made you smile whenever you read them (I still have my envelope with all the comments in).

In proper rom-com tradition, saying our goodbyes were hard and in a lot of cases very teary.  Bidding farewell to Carl Wood outside the closing party was a tough one, as was leaving Stef and Chrissy Morrison at Hillview as we boarded our coach to the airport.  When we got to Heathrow our goodbyes were stalled as long as possible before us Northerners had to go through our connections.  We’d see each other again in the next few months anyway through tournaments but it was still sad to see people go after spending nearly two weeks with them constantly.  Heck, even saying tata to people at Newcastle was hard!

Those factors all point to the growth we’ve had as individuals and as a team, but we’re more than that really now, and it was definitely a once in a lifetime trip.

Team GB 2013

I’ve done my best to try and condense how I feel about those days, but I know for a fact that as soon as I post this, I’ll re-read it and want to add more stories.  That’s why I’m going to expand on it in my pages, but until then, I hope that this has been an enjoyable read.  For those that weren’t there or were watching along at home, please feel free to ask any questions or give your thoughts.  And for those of you that WERE there, please please please comment or like and add any favourite stories or memories you have and I’ll be sure to include them later!

It’s been a blast.  Thanks again to Newfouundland, the ISBHF, all the supporters we had and to you all at Team GB.  Love ya!

Peace

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For any more information you can go to the following sites;
St Johns 2013 World Ball Hockey Championships
International Street & Ball Hockey Federation – ISBHF.com
Ball Hockey UK Blog
North East Dekstars Official Website

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