Tales from the Aleš Hřebeský Memorial Tournament

The First 40 Hours

So if any of you are into box lacrosse, you may know of the Aleš Hřebeský Memorial Tournament that’s played in the Czech Republic every year.  It’s in a little town right outside Prague called Radotin, and both the town and tournament are amazing in so many ways.  You owe it to yourself to visit this event at least once in your life as a player or spectator.  Seriously.

I play on a team called the Boston Megamen and have been sponsored by Odor Gladiator for this tournament for the last three years.  If an Odor Gladiator can make a stinky Czech locker room smell fresh, imagine what it can do for your lacrosse or hockey bag!

Getting there is half the fun.  This year’s journey to the Czech Republic started on Monday evening in Philadelphia.  I connected through Brussels and then landed in Berlin.  I thought I was in for a pleasant flight, but ended up next to an angry lady who decided to kick and lean on me the entire seven hour flight.  Nothing a quick poke check wouldn’t have resolved, but sometimes you’ve just got to grin and bear it.

After landing in Brussels, I played hide-and-seek with my newly relocated Berlin departure gate before getting back in the air.  No angry woman for this segment, and as a bonus I got to try a waffle snack that was breathtaking (US Airways, take notes, please).  Perhaps I was simply ravenous…and hallucinogenic…from being up for over 24 hours.  I’m not certain, but I always will recall fondly my magic waffle.

Once safely on the ground in Berlin, I hooked up with some of my teammates, most of whom had arrived a few days earlier to enjoy the sights and sounds of Berlin.  We overloaded our gear into a rented and underpowered van, and launched straight to Prague as the tournament was right around the calendar corner.  And did I mention we took the popular Autobahn to get there?

Packed like sardines, we handed our fate over to our team captain as we swayed down the German highway at bug-splattering speed in our soup can on wheels.  I’m not exactly certain how kilometers convert to miles, but I think it’s safe to say we were traveling 375 miles per hour or so.  Maybe faster.

A short time later, we arrived at the arena and met up with the rest of our team.  This was my fourth time at this event, so I already knew what was on the bill for the evening:  a late night in the city at a popular night club.  What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but Prague, well, that’s a different story.  Through the course of the night, I witnessed one of our new guys express his affection to a few parked cars and an ice cream chest at a street meat stand.  One of our transition players also did his best gargoyle impersonation on a ledge affixed to the side of an extremely old building.  And two other teammates attempted to wrestle two bartenders.  Had it continued, I’d have put money on the bartenders.  Those two girls looked strong.  Hey, I never said we were nocturnal role models.

We rolled back into the hotel parking lot at 3:45 AM Czech time, which made it 9:45 PM Philly time, which meant I’d been awake for 40 hours.  I eagerly pressed my face into my pillow after navigating a ridiculously small spiral staircase in the dark.  With eyes closed, I wondered if the ice cream chest would miss our big defender and how much money I might have won had the co-ed wrestling match continued.  The last thought that trickled through my head before unconsciousness is “lacrosse… sometime in the next few hours….”  Lights out.

Czech the Box

So it’s the day of our first game, well…first games. Since there are 22 teams from something like 13 countries playing, they jam a lot of lax in.  Our seeding games are two 15-minute running-clock halves.  First on the docket is Scotland and we handle them pretty well.  Scotland’s team is a whole lot better than last year and if this is a sign of things to come, then we might have our hands full in the semi’s.  A few hours later we play the number two team in the Czech Republic.  We squeak out the W by one goal.

With the group play now out of the way we can spend some time regrouping and focusing on the playoffs. The next day we face England and finish them off with an uncharacteristic victory. Our offense is struggling a bit to find their mojo, but is still finding the net.  Boy, we really are getting a bunch of odd penalties though.

Games wrap and apparently it’s time to go out on the town again tonight, but not into the city. Instead, we head a the local bar called Club Klondike, I think.  It was rapidly renamed to the Chinese Disco because it was in fact some sort of disco house and it was behind a Chinese food restaurant. So we’re jamming out in an empty Chinese Disco house.  It has a small stage with a big brass pole, so naturally we expect this night to get real interesting real quick. Unfortunately the pole was only being used by big hairy English lacrosse players since the team from England was late to join us.  After some broken glass, real intense Foosball, darts, and a few empty bottles of whiskey, we all call in a night and head back to our hotel.

It’s day two, and we’re back at it again playing a Canadian team this time; it’s nice to see our offense find their stride in the victory.  It’s also fair to mention the brand new spider monkey check that PJ Martin landed on the guy he was covering.  We call it the spider monkey check because PJ is about six inches shorter than his man and the moves he needed to strip the ball from behind on this guy resembled a crazy little monkey.  Next up is a different Canadian team.  If we win this game then we’re in the finals.  **Finally** we’re into the games that get real serious. The games are now three stop-time 12 minute periods.  Both teams struggle to finish as the Gaels from Canada find a win.

In an ironic twist, we head to our final game of the tourney playing the host Czech team.  It’s ironic because we played this particular team in the last two championship games.  This would be the rubber match if it were the game for the cup, but instead we’re both playing for third place.  We drop this game too, but honestly we didn’t have anything left in us for a win. We lost three players in the prior game due to injuries, and another two in the first four minutes of this game, leaving us with a total of three subs on the bench, none of which were defenders. We were picked clean and emotionally drained. That was it, no more lax for us this week.

This is the fourth year I’ve been to this tourney and it’s always a good time. While I am sporting two torn/repaired Achilles tendons and can’t run, I was still able to at least serve penalties and drink fresh Czech beer for the team.  Every army needs a little drummer boy right?  I served a bunch of “too many men” penalties and a well-earned “your goalie kicked that guy while he was on the ground” penalty.  At the end of the tourney we read the stats of each team and found that we were two minutes away from doubling up the next closest team that had 88 minutes themselves.  It was then obvious that we certainly had the attention of the zebras.  I vividly remember one of the reasons I took a ”too many men” trip to the box; neither team had a man in the box and we were sending our 5th man out on offense.  Did you follow that?  We had FOUR men on the floor.  Just like that, we go man down.  It was frustrating to say the least.

I think the highlight of the trip for me was taking part in the hand making of my own one handed Czech-style lacrosse stick. It’s modeled after the early native North American sticks, it has a closed loop head versus the standard crook/cross style woodie we’re all used too, and it’s about 24 inches long. It’s super cool and surprisingly easy to use.

On the tail end of our adventure, we once again jam into the tiny clown car (“the Jumpy”) and head back to Berlin.  Some of us stay there for a few days and others just fly right home.  The entire team takes a financial hit by purchasing our own airfare, tourney fees, and hotel costs but it’s all worth it.  We got help again this year from Mike at Odor Gladiator and PJ from Uncommon Fit.  These two guys have supported us for a few years now and certainly deserve recognition.  The Boston Megamen thank you two for your continued support.

In the end, I can tell you this about the Aleš Hřebeský Memorial Tournament: It’s unquestionably changed… my…life.  If you had told me prior to learning about the tourney that I would travel the world the way I do now, I would have laughed at you.  Yet out of the tragedy that was the loss of a young lacrosse player’s life in 1993 blossoms the discovery of new friends, experiences, and life drawn from all over the world.  I think Aleš would be proud of his community and what his memory has done to both grow and unite the international lacrosse community.

As you can probably tell, I think the Aleš Hřebeský Memorial Tournament is easily the best box lacrosse tournament in the world.  If you treasure lacrosse the way I do, you owe it to yourself to travel to Radotin in 2015, whether as a player, spectator or both!

For the Love of Lacrosse

In the world of professional lacrosse, there are few guarantees.  Teams fold, rosters change, and injuries plague players unexpectedly.  However, for Toronto Rock’s goaltender, Nick Rose, there is one constant that keeps him in the game: his love for the sport.  While life as a lacrosse professional may not be easy or lucrative (there are no NFL salaries here), Nick shares what it is about lacrosse that has him hooked. 

He’s good at it (what’s not to love about that?)

Back in the day as an Orangeville Northmen Junior team member

On the field since age six, it’s safe to say that Nick has mastered the sport after almost 20 years of experience.  He didn’t, however, gravitate toward a position in goal since day one.  Like Tye, he was in tears at the thought of having to play goalie.  Soon enough, though, he discovered his talent and hasn’t left the net since.

He gets to be a “Rock” year-round

When his National Lacrosse League season with the Toronto Rock ends, Nick will play for the Oakville Rock in the MSL.  They’ll play 20 regular season games throughout the summer and begin playoffs in August, when teams compete for the coveted Mann Cup.

“Summer lacrosse is more old-school lacrosse,” says Nick.  “It’s more physical and it’s really competitive because the Mann Cup is the best trophy to win in all of lacrosse.”

He gets to explore new places

Drafted by the Boston Blazers at age 20, Nick played for the team for 3 seasons before it folded.  He then played for Calgary for half a season before he was traded to Toronto, where he is now in his third season.

“When I saw Boston come in the NLL, I wanted to get there because I had heard such great things about the city.  Living in Calgary, though brief, was a great experience too.” says Nick.

He lives near his family (yes, this can be a good thing)

Nick in action

“Toronto is also home for me, because my hometown of Orangeville is only an hour north of the city.  I love playing here because I’m near my family and my teammates are guys I know and am good friends with.  Also, the travel’s easy.”

Game days include naps

“On game days, we have morning shooter rounds and then eat lunch together as a team.  Then we gear up for the game with a nap.”

He has fans!

“Among the NLL teams, I’d say we’re in the top 4 or 5 as far as fan bases go.  A lot of people come to the games, and hopefully we can gain even more traction and start to sell more tickets as lacrosse becomes more popular.  About 10 years ago,  games used to sell out.  There were 12-14,000 people at most games.  It’d be great if we could get back to that.”

He’s surrounded by like-minded lacrosse lovers

“Even though a lot of us are always nursing some injury and we don’t make a ton of money playing, we all play for the love of the game.  It’s amazing what so many of us are willing to play through.  We’ve all known each other forever and feel fortunate to be able to be playing a sport that we love.”

Odor Gladiator Introduces Between the Bars

At Odor Gladiator, we love all athletes, but we tend develop special relationships with those who need us most.  With all of their heavy pads and gear, lacrosse goalies have been known for their rather pungent sports equipment bags—until they encountered us.  Over the years, we’ve had the pleasure of getting to know many of the U.S. and Canada’s most talented lacrosse goalies, who we will feature on this blog series, Between the Bars.  Alone in their nets at the end of the floor, box goalies have a unique perspective on the game of lacrosse, as well as on life.

Our first feature goalie, Tye Belanger, is the quintessential lacrosse pro.  He’s been on the floor since age four (playing for a real team, mind you) and comes from a family of talented players. From running clinics to making school appearances, he dedicates most of his waking hours to lacrosse simply because he loves the game that much.  Now in his third NLL season, Tye fills us in on his pretty much perfect (well, at least it sounds that way) lacrosse life.

Team

Tye's mom and biggest fan made him this cake when he was drafted by the Colorado Mammoth.

I was drafted by the Colorado Mammoth in 2011, 16th overall.

Hometown

Mooretown, Ontario

All in the Family

I played on my first team with my brother who’s 18 months older than me.  He now coaches a novice team back home. This summer I will start my first head coaching job for my sister’s intermediate team.  I’ve been involved with her team for four years, so I’m really excited for this position as head coach. My siblings and I are the first generation in our family to play lacrosse, but our parents are really into it.  They’re our biggest fans.

Proud of his Roots

There have been so many memorable moments and games in my lacrosse career that stand out in my mind. Some of the best memories I have in lacrosse are when I played in Wallaceburg, Ontario. I had a blast playing there and made so many great friends along the way. It was a special time in my lacrosse career.  I am proud to call myself a Wallaceburg Alumni.

How did you end up in the net?

Tye at training camp with the Wallaceburg Red Devils.

When I was 4, we switched goalies every game. According to my mom, I always kicked, screamed and cried the whole time when it was my turn to strap on the pads in goal. But all the parents and my teammates thought I was the best goalie among the players. So I grew to like the position and have been goalie for every sport I’ve played ever since.

On Goalie Life

It can be a bit isolating during the game down in the net by ourselves, covered in heavy pads. Luckily all us goalies in the league have great respect for each other. In the National Lacrosse League there is a “goalie union” where we look out for one another and support the other goalies. There are only 18 or so of us, so we’re pretty tight and there really isn’t much rivalry between us. My team members joke that goalies are a different breed, so I do deal with some heckling, but it’s all in good fun.

The Mammoth Dynamic

Lacrosse is such a tight-knit, small community—we all probably somehow knew each other before becoming teammates.  About half of us live in Denver and our other team members fly in for games from Buffalo, Toronto, Vancouver, or wherever else they live.

Several of us who live here do clinics and school appearances to help promote the team and the game of lacrosse.  Most of the guys who live out of town have day jobs that are unrelated to lacrosse.  Even though we only see each other on weekends, we’re all really close and get along great.

Canadian Invasion

Even though half of the NLL teams are U.S.-based teams, I’d say about 85% of players in the league are Canadian.  One of the advantages Canadians have is that most of us grew up only playing box lacrosse, whereas a lot of Americans played field lacrosse, so it can sometimes be harder for them to adjust to the indoor game.

Advice to Aspiring Pros

Suited up for a Mammoth game.

The advice I would give players trying to make the NLL is to never give up. You may not make it into the league your first year, but maybe the following year or even later on you may make a team.

Looking Ahead

I’d love for lacrosse to be a big part of my life for a long time, and of course I’d love to play for as long as I can.  John Grant Jr., one of our offensive players, is an older guy in the league and arguably the best lacrosse player in the world. He has taken really good care of his body and he is a good example of how you can have a long career in the NLL, which I dream of having. My time playing lacrosse has been so important to me that I give back as much time as I can to the association by coaching and running clinics. I’ve accomplished so much in my young career, and helping out young lacrosse players is a simple way of saying thank you to the people that helped me along the way.