As I sit and reflect on the Masters World Championships a little over a week ago, I am again humbled by so many things that make events like this happen. The dedication of so many volunteers is staggering from the great people at the ISBHF to the guys behind the scenes doing the dirty work for ASHI and for the sport. This sport is truly unique.
As I have been to previous World Championships, I have seen what goes into something like this from afar but it wasn’t until last week when I REALLY saw what it takes to pull something off like this. This being our first domestic event, you sorta have an idea of what to expect but until you actually dig in, it’s pretty overwhelming. I am not perfect, ASHI is not perfect but at the end of it all through the good and the bad, when you see what the results are from something like this, it’s nothing short of inspiring.
By the time an event like this comes to an end, what comes out of it are things like new found friends, a new sense of pride for our sport and for our great country, the ability to look at yourself and others with a different degree of respect and most importantly, the ability to be a part of something so great. You see people of all shapes and sizes giving everything they have in the tank for that one chance at glory while doing something they love so very much. You see people that have been enemies on the rink for years now form new friendships that will last forever and you see hundreds of athletes with smiles on their faces and hugging each other because what they accomplished was so special.
In the case of the United States Mens Masters Team, you saw the mens program blossom with players from all over the country dedicating their time, their money, their vacation time from work and precious time with their families in hopes to grasp onto something great. The men dedicated over a year of sacrifice for one common goal and that is truly amazing. To see these guys that were selected over a year ago at the selection camp in that arena in New Jersey and then to look at them today, you clearly saw an overwhelming difference in the makeup of that team. Some of them worked on their bodies so hard that they were almost unrecognizable. I think it is safe to say now that no stones were left unturned in terms of conditioning and that team was the most prepared team that I have ever seen for any one event. In addition, let’s not forget the coaching staff as well. They may have not hit the gym 5 times a week or even touched a treadmill but the preparation that they put forth was equal to the efforts of the players. They deserve as much credit.
On the womens side, you saw two groups of women from all over the U.S. get together with almost zero expectations as this was the first Womens Masters event and they had a great deal of success in their own right. I got to meet many of them for the first time last week and whether you are a fan of the womens game or not, I’m telling you, I have never seen more commitment and effort from any mens team than I have when I watched those women play. Dedication and commitment is truly an understatement. If I may use the word again, “inspiring” is the word that comes to mind. These women battled in the corner just as hard as any mens team did, they cleared the front of the net, they chased balls down, they protected their goalies, they made huge saves and most importantly, they all came together as a team and epitomized the definition of team play.
As we begin to wrap up this calendar year, I have the opportunity to take time to reflect on what has happened in the last several months. For the first time, the ISBHF had the largest turnout for national participation with 20 teams in three Juniors divisions at the World Junior Championships in Bratislava, Slovakia. We entered a U18 team in the Juniors division for the first time ever and won a Bronze Medal. We also won a Bronze in the U20 division even though we were so close to a crack at the gold. We got close to 50 kids from all over the country to believe, we instituted a fair selection process, we met in Southern New Jersey and hopped on a plane in New York City. We dealt with expiring passports, a terrible hotel the first day, language barriers, lost luggage, broken coffee pots, fees to get OUT of a cab and even a few lost bags. However, those 50 kids believed. They showed just how resilient the citizens from our great nation are, they rallied together despite being fierce rivals prior to this event and worked as a cohesive unit. The result was a group of people that gained new lifelong friends, a wonderful once in a lifetime experience and a little dose of good ol’ American Pride! That was an experience none of us will forget.
Before we could get a chance to catch our breath, we were onto the Masters Division. Once again, the largest event in the ISBHFs history in this division. The participation rules are a little different in the Masters program so we got a chance to see a few of the top club teams from Canada as well among others. This tournament is a tribute to all of the men and women that have dedicated their lives to this great sport of ours and we certainly saw some of the best of it. As some icing on the cake, for the first time ever, the ISBHF included a Womens Masters Division as well. As our sport is so young, it was hard to create that division as most member nations of the ISBHF simply haven’t aged out enough. However, the ISBHF felt that it was the right time to at least get the process started and many are glad that they did. More participation is expected in the years to come in the Womens Division.
There was so much preparation that took place to get the Juniors off the ground, I am eternally grateful to the management of the Masters Division for taking care of business while we were away focusing on the Juniors. The management had things working like a charm with attention to great detail and the stage was set, the teams were extremely prepared and the fluidity of it all was seamless to a large degree. Again though, there were some bumps in the road in the beginning. Some of them that were out of our control and some of them that were very much in our control. Yet again though, the resiliency that we showed as a team and as an organization can be rivaled by none. Aside from the good, the bad and the ugly, sometimes the bounces do not go your way. The mens team wound up winning a Bronze Medal and the Womens USA Blue Team won a Silver Medal in their inaugural event. I am very proud of both teams for their accomplishments. Not to be forgotten, the District of Columbia team that the United States entered in the Mens Division was a fierce competitor and the talk of the tournament for most of the week. They exemplified team play, grittiness and dedication and ultimately were crowned with a 6th place finish. Not too bad if you ask me, they were one of the most enjoyable teams to watch. Finally, there was the Womens USA Red team. The Red finished 4th of 5 in a squeaker for the Bronze and had terrific goal-tending and a bunch of scrappers that frankly I would not want to meet in a dark alley. There was no shortage of blood and sweat on the rink after one of their games.
The resort that we stayed at was nothing short of spectacular, the venue (although small) turned out to be perfect for this type of event and every team representative that I spoke with was very, very happy with the event. This included the tight atmosphere of the venue, the resort and of course the level of play. We got to see alligators, a possum the size of a labrador, a few armadillos, a bunch of nude Austrians hosing each other off in the parking lot and most importantly the high level of skill and dedication that is representative of decades of commitment. This was truly a trip to remember.
We now shall turn our attention toward the showcase event for our sport, The ISBHF Mens and Womens World Championships in Zug, Switzerland on June 19th, 2015. This will be the largest event in terms of participation that the sport has ever seen. This event will take place in beautiful Switzerland and is being touted as the “Beijing 2008” of our sport with over 1,000 athletes and staff. The venue is absolutely stunning, the scenery is awesome and for the first time there will be a packed house of 30 teams competing from all over the globe. Our processes are well in place for this already and we will lean on the management of our mens and womens programs to assemble and prepare the best that the United States can offer. We will learn from our past mistakes and become better as a team, a program and as a community. The United States has taken a back seat for way too long in this sport and we are committed to showing the rest of the world that we are here, we are here to stay and will lead this sport for many years to come. On behalf of myself, everyone at ASHI and to all of those that give so much that many of you may not even know about, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all that you do and for all of the support you show.
-Chris Banks