OTTAWA - There must be 100 beer leagues around Ottawa and yet, soon enough, there will also still be one group of hockey players who just can’t find a game.
They seem like good guys, too, and they definitely know their way around the slippery surface. You can see that very clearly watching them skate at the Bell Sensplex three mornings a week.
They already have a coach (former NHLer John Chabot), and they already have their own team jerseys, if not a nickname.
May we suggest The Big Rig Brewery Brothers?
Even their union might like the sounds of that.
Chris Phillips could be both the team owner (he’s already the Brothers’ sponsor) and any beer league’s Norris Trophy winner, while leading all beer leaguers in scoring (before you argue that, read on).
That is, when he’s not wearing his other hat as the Senators’ representative in the CBA fight he and his Brothers are having with NHL owners — when the feeling moves one of the sides to actually call for a meeting.
Since that apparently doesn’t happen very often, Phillips, who has lived in Ottawa for the past 15 seasons and has no immediate plans to join the exodus overseas, should have plenty of buddies here who would have a spot open on their beer league roster, right?
“I think I could find a team,” Big Rig said with a chuckle the other day at Sensplex.
Two or three teams found Shaun Van Allen during the last lockout, including mine. We were the Broadway Wolves, in the Barrhaven men’s over-35 league. I take credit for the free-agent signing of Van Allen, who, like Phillips, was and remains one of this town’s finest fellows.
Back then, Van Allen was 36 years old and anxious to earn at least one more salary from the Senators. While waiting for the 1994 lockout to sort itself out, he tried to sweat out his frustrations as often as possible.
Our league wasn’t much help in that department, unfortunately.
Van Allen, a fourth-line NHL centre, played defence on the Wolves. When we were short, he would stay on the ice for the whole game. Seemed we won every night by a single goal that he either scored or set up.
He dominated a game even more so than the way Bobby Orr did for the Bruins, and Van Allen wasn’t even really trying.
I personally remember potting a beauty: Standing in front of the net with my stick on the ice, as he had instructed, Van Allen sent a magical saucer pass from the corner that just hovered over one opponent’s stick, then slipped under another’s, before bouncing off my blade and into the mesh.
Of course, I celebrated like I had actually done something.
The slim margin of victory would both satisfy Van Allen’s competitive nature and always allow the guys on the other team to think they had a chance — even though they didn’t. That way they wouldn’t complain about him being too good to be in our league, and Van Allen could continue to go for a skate — then a couple of pops and chicken wings — with his friends.
But while the bankers, government workers and mechanics on other teams liked to tell everybody they were playing against an NHLer, they were also competitive, and some of them would hack and hold Van Allen as he would be breezing around them.
A couple of the fools even wanted to fight him, probably not realizing the pressure the bigger and stronger Van Allen was feeling to continue his pro career and support his wife and three kids.
The fools were lucky he was convinced not to oblige.
Van Allen never did get a chance to suit up for another game in the NHL, just as Daniel Alfredsson’s desire to keep playing might be crushed by the current lockout.
Should any of them wind up in your beer league, try to remember that not all the Brothers are on board with the NHLPA’s reluctance to sign the owner’s latest offer. No matter what they say.
Some of them, in fact, are probably in quite a foul mood these days. As they should be.