imageKevin Cooley and Chris Caplan hosted their first ball hockey tournament at Gloucester Township in New Jersey. ASHI takes a look at what it is like to host a tournament for the first time, and the trials and tribulations that come along with it…

The current adult ball hockey tournament schedule has roughly 20 tournaments scattered throughout the entire year.  Not every tournament is the same; some are men only, some are women only, some are invitation only, some are for specific skill levels.  One thing that is unique across any tournament you go and visit is the incredible stresses placed on the tournament director(s).  Putting on a tournament over a weekend with anywhere from 200-600 players and a few hundred more spectators and visitors is no small task.

Kevin Cooley and Chris Caplan have been playing ball hockey their entire lives.  They are devoted to the sport.  Combined they have probably played in over 100 tournaments each over the past 15 years, easily.  But in 2014, they decided it was time to host.  So they selected Gloucester Township as the host facility.  It’s an outdoor venue located in Southern New Jersey 20 minutes down the Atlantic City Expressway from Philadelphia.  Kevin and Chris both live in that general area.

Planning for the tournament began last year, and they started a social media push late last year as well.  Coming up with a date for the tournament was one of their hardest tasks because the ball hockey tournament schedule is pretty filled as it is.  And there is a gentlemen’s agreement among most of the tournament hosts that they will not schedule a tournament on a weekend that is already hosting a tournament within a few hours driving distance.  So for example, if there was a tournament that weekend in Pittsburgh for adults, Kevin and Chris would have chosen an alternative weekend so as not to break the unwritten rule.  It’s one of the great things about being involved in such a great, supportive community.  People respect one another and tournament directors respect how hard putting on a tournament can be, so they don’t look to add any aggravation towards an already difficult task.

I spoke with both Kevin and Chris for this article.  I asked Kevin what prompted this whole adventure.

“Chris and I play in an over 30 men’s league in Gloucester Township and discussed with the teams if they would be interested in playing in a tournament at our home rink. The response was very positive and gave us the momentum to really get this event off the ground.” said Kevin.

I asked them both what they learned from this experience overall.  Said Chris Caplan “You have to learn to delegate responsibility to your peers. I was very fortunate to have Kevin Cooley as a partner in this venture.”

Kevin Cooley added “I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process and learned a lot of things I will take with me and use in upcoming tournaments. In talking with other tournament directors, I kept hearing that nothing is set until the drop of the first ball and that is the truth.

To see all the teams come out and take this so serious was awesome. During and after the tournament we heard nothing but good things about the weekend which made it worth it to me.  This weekend provided teams and friends an opportunity to get back outside and play the game they grew up playing and a chance to escape reality, relax and play the game they love. The competition level was excellent in all divisions.  Most of the games were decided by 2 goals or less which makes it exciting to watch.”

Chris also added this when I talked to him about the learning process “It was a great weekend of hockey.  The months leading up to it were a little bit stressful but well worth it.  I have been to many tournaments in my career but have never been on the side of the organization and directing.  I have learned a lot and gained much knowledge on how to run and direct the next one.”

When it comes to stress, tournament directors have more than their fair share.  It’s a never ending process to make sure you take care of as much of the little details as possible.

“Doing the schedule was the most stressful part of organizing the tournament. We tried our best to accommodate teams and give them the best opportunity to compete with a full roster but it was not perfect. We did make an effort to get everyone done by 6:00pm Saturday and it was successful.” said Kevin.

Was there anything that he would do differently I asked him.

“We need more pre-planning meetings with the township to make sure we are all on the same page.  Also, I will not allow referees to play in in the same division they are officiating.  I didn’t think it was a big deal and didn’t want to tell people they weren’t allowed to play so next time we will make sure they are in different divisions.”

I spoke with Chris about Gloucester Township and how it was to deal with a public facility.  A lot of times dealing with public facilities places extra challenges on tournament directors because of liability issues with the town and the park.

“As far as having it at a public facility I want to thank Gloucester Township for letting us use their awesome facility.  They were very gracious.  We look forward to hosting more [tournaments] there.”

Kevin echoed what Chris said.  “We selected the Gloucester Township hockey rinks because we believe it is the best outdoor complex in the area.  They have 3 hockey rinks, loads of parking, and more than enough room to accommodate 20 plus hockey teams.

Our overall experience was fine, with this being our first time holding an event at their facility.  There were minor miscommunications that occurred but nothing that stopped the success of the weekend.  It was a learning experience that we will use in upcoming events.”

As for the hockey itself, there was an Open Division, a C Division, and a Novice Division.  The New Jersey Supreme defeated a team from Leominster Dek Hockey Center in the finals 7-2.  I spoke with John Stewart of the Supreme about the game.

John, why do you think you guys handled Leominster so well?

“We were aware of some of the great star power they had on the team, but also knew that they had a short bench, with some of the guys playing in two divisions. Our goal was to get on them right away, keep the pressure on, and try to wear them down. We stuck to our plan and fortunately for us, it worked. Hats off to those guys for coming and representing Leominster even though they were slightly undermanned. We look forward to many more battles with those guys.”

What did you think of the tournament overall since this was Caplan and Cooley’s inaugural tournament?  

“I think Cappie and Cooley did a great job! You really can’t ask for a better turnout for your first big tournament than what they had. They promoted it well, everything was ran in a timely manner, and it was a great atmosphere. Didn’t hear any complaints from others either. I know in speaking with both of them that they hope to have a few more teams in the A division and I am sure with the way things turned out that won’t be a problem.”

In your opinion, what is the most challenging aspect of winning any type of tournament these days?

“Attrition. “A” tournaments are grueling battles, and when you come out on top it is such a gratifying feeling. All teams work hard preparing, and even harder during these tourneys. Any team can win any tournament at any time if they take each game one at a time, play as one, and battle from the first drop of the ball to the final buzzer.”

John Petito, 2013 Team USA member and current forward for the Buffalo Fusion, played in this tournament on a team coached by Jay Machin.  I asked John for his comments on the tournament.

“I thought it went very well for it being the first one of its kind. I was impressed with the overall tournament, and the teams that were there were deep in talent. We had great weather to top it off. Im looking forward to next years with maybe a few more out of state teams in attendance.”

How was the officiating?

“The refereeing was good in my opinion.”

Every tournament has it’s share of “issues” that pop up that have to be dealt with by the director.  I asked John – Were there any issues that arose during the tournament that may have been out of the ordinary?

“The deck surface was bubbling a bit in some spots on the main rink but thats normal due to the heat apparently. The staff made some adjustments and we were able to play no problem.”

I asked Kevin the same question about unforeseen events.

“We did not post all the rules and nuances of the tournament so an established rulebook would have helped when questions that arose during the weekend.  A database of all available referees in the area would have been a helpful tool.  We ran into trouble on Sunday and could have used another referee or two.”

John Stewart has played in a lot of tournaments.  Part of any tournament being successful is the players and teams themselves.  I asked John how he conducts himself as a player to help ensure his team enjoys the tournaments they participate in.

“Being 33, one of the older guys on the team, I have a lot of tournament experience, so off the rink I try to always keep an upbeat attitude on the bench, and keep the guys fired up whether we are up or down, especially the young guys. We all have to keep a level head and focus on the task at hand and the common good for the team.”

Kevin was asked what advice he has for someone looking to start their own tournament.

“Make it a priority to get the best referees available.  They set the tone of the game and make sure things do not get out of hand.  Make sure you pay them well; referee fees should be your biggest expense.  Talk with other tournament directors and pick their brains about things that are unclear to you.  I know it’s a pride thing sometimes but I respect the other organizations that run successful events and want to make sure we are putting a good product out.”

Chris Caplan offered his own closing remarks.

“Thank you for letting me share my experience.  The sport of hockey has given me many wonderful memories. I feel obligated to give back to the sport and continue to help the growth of our incredible sport.”