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!

Choosing a Lacrosse Camp for Your Athlete

It’s May and summer is fast approaching.  Between sports practices, games, homework, and graduations, it’s hard to find time to make plans for the summer.  For those of you living with lacrosse players, you’re in luck.  We spoke with the directors of a few of the country’s top lacrosse programs, and they shared these tips on selecting a summer lacrosse camp or clinic.  Whether your child is looking to learn the basics or to “get a look” from college coaches, this advice will ensure you spend your money wisely and help you find the right match.

Coaching

When it comes to choosing a stellar lacrosse program, the quality of coaching and coaching experience make a big difference.  Both of the program directors we spoke with hire coaches with both professional playing and extensive coaching experience. 

“The fact that our coaches all play for the Minnesota Swarm in the National Lacrosse League is a huge draw for parents.  Parents recognize that we’re able to teach kids the importance of discipline, hard work, and what it takes to be leaders both on and off the field,” shared Aime Caines, director and founder of Play Like a Pro Lacrosse in Woodbury, Minnesota.

In addition to coaching for Play like a Pro, the program’s coaches also work with local youth lacrosse leagues, so they are constantly honing their coaching skills.

Caines, who serves as head coach of his program, also coaches the Minnesota Swarm, the Swarm’s Youth Box League, and a local high school team.  Needless to say, he’s pretty qualified to teach athletes of all ages and levels.

Chris Mattes, director of The Faceoff Academy and middie for the Florida Launch, leads youth clinics and combines across the country.  He agrees that quality coaching is necessary when choosing a lacrosse program.

“Our coaches are all active in the MLL, and are trained to provide guidance to kids of all ages,” Mattes said.  “They are mentors to the players and help high school students network with college coaches and find the right fit for them, whether it’s a divisional or club team.  Even after the clinic is over, our coaches are willing to keep working with players to guide them in the right direction.”

Program Demand & Affiliations

While coaching certainly adds to a program’s credibility, so does demand, according to Caines and Mattes.  Are parents and players recommending it?  How long has it been around?  Has the program expanded or added sessions each summer because of its popularity? 

Play Like a Pro is in its fifth year of coaching youth lacrosse clinics for athletes ages 8-15, and because it has seen such a demand from high school players, it will host a high school clinic for the first time this summer.

“Because I coach high school lacrosse, the older kids have become really interested in a clinic, so we’re delivering that this summer to work on fine tuning position-specific skills,” Caines said.

Though Faceoff Academy is new to the lacrosse clinic scene (this summer will be its second year), Mattes never imagined that it would be such a hit.  He planned to host the program during the summer and the demand was so high that he started running clinics year-round.

Another force multiplier contributing to The Faceoff Academy’s traction is the fact that some of its clinics are co-presented by LB3 Lacrosse, a well-known organization that runs camps and clinics in nontraditional lacrosse hotbeds. 

“LB3 is really highly regarded in the lacrosse community, so the fact that they partner with us is to our benefit because of its great reputation,” Mattes said.

If you’re not sure about a program, Mattes advises to see if it has established partnerships with any well-known associations.  Also, ask people in your local lacrosse community about it and ask the program itself for references.

Quality of Content

Content within programs will vary based on age groups and skill levels, but the quality of what’s covered should be consistent across the board.  Mattes says that the skills being taught should be well suited to a player’s experience level and that parents should ask the right questions to ensure that the program will be challenging enough, but not overwhelming, for their child.

Generally speaking, younger kids (around ages 7-10) who are new to lacrosse should be learning basic field skills and even playing fun games to keep them engaged and having a good time, says Mattes.  Kids this age shouldn’t be pushed too hard.

“Older kids who are more serious about lacrosse, however, should be working on fine tuning position-specific drills, and also strengthening, conditioning, and nutrition,” added Caines.  He hires a professional strength and conditioning coach and a nutritionist to help players learn to take care of themselves off the field.  The program’s aim is to live up to its name and give participants a taste of what it’s like to play lacrosse like a pro.

The Faceoff Academy offers combines for high school and college students that focus on faceoff basics, as well as a host of other skills, such as wing play, shooting on the run, effective transferring through the box, and setting up and mastering the 4 on 3 break.

 “It’s important that programs are very specific about what they cover with players of each skill level, so that parents and players can determine if it’s a good fit,” Mattes says.