Rexall's rowdy guys

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:47 AM ET

So there I was, pen and notebook in hand, working the dressing room of the Confederation Firebolts. The Firebolts had just won the greatest game of the 442-team, 663-game Guinness World Record endorsed ''Largest Hockey Tournament in the World.''

"Amazing,'' said goaltender Geoff Brooks of the experience.

"I tried so hard to get here.''

It was amazing, he said, not because they'd won their division of Quikcard Minor Hockey Week, but because he's a 10-year-old kid and he got to play the game of his life in the Oilers' NHL arena.

I talked to Marcus Wilson, a Firebolt who said he was happiest "because we stopped No. 42,'' he said of the guy he thought was Beverly's best player "and because we played here.''

Last year the thrill was playing in the rink where the Oilers play.

This year the thrill was "weird,'' said Wilson, in being able to say they played one more game in Rexall Place this year than the Oilers can say they've played.

"It felt really good,'' said Wilson.

The Firebolts and Beverly Miners tied 4-4 through regulation time.

The two teams remained tied after a minute of five-on-five overtime hockey, were still tied after a minute of four-on-four, still tied after another minute of three-on-three, and still tied after another minute of two-on-two.

CRASHED INTO EACH OTHER

It was well into the one-on-one session when the two remaining skaters crashed into each other and a penalty was issued.

Jimmy Suske was awarded the penalty shot.

He scored.

You don't cover a game like that every day.

I needed to talk to Suske.

"I've already done my interview,'' Wilson informed the overtime hero, in a way that suggested of course they'd be interviewed by a sports columnist in their dressing room after winning the championship game.

"It was really good,'' Suske told me.

OK, these guys still need a little work on their quotes.

But their faces said it all.

What a wonderful experience.

The team was presented with their medals by former Oiler coach and hockey legend Ted Green.

"That's the last time I do that,'' said Green as he left the room.

"Some kid said 'You're a really old guy.' ''

Green was back to present the medals to the team in the next game.

Former Oiler Brian Benning, whose St. Albert Rage beat Oiler coach Craig MacTavish's Atom team to get to the Tier 1 final which followed, ended up 5-2 losers to the North SEERA Barons.

But Benning was grinning - from ear to ear.

WHAT A GREAT AGE

"I love players at this age,'' he said.

"They're old enough that they know how to skate pretty well and shoot pretty well, but putting the two together is sometimes a bit of a challenge.''

Benning said the real thrill for these kids is getting to the game, to be able to play on the same ice where Wayne Gretzky and all the Oiler greats used to play, where their modern- day hockey heroes will eventually play again.

"This is so incredible,'' said Minor Hockey Week chairperson Joan Kirillo of Northlands, which provided the arena.

"The kids are having a blast. The smiles. Having their picture taken in front of the Oiler dressing room.

''Checking out what it's like in the penalty box. For some reason, checking out the penalty box is a big thing.

''Having the goals announced on the P.A. system.

''Having the music when the play stops, just like the pros. This is such an awesome experience for them.''

It's just as much fun watching the kids in the big building as it is being one of the kids. And you can do that from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m. today.

The reason I write about all this is that this sensational scene isn't a given.

Because the Minor Hockey Week players have been given the thrill of playing their championship games in Rexall Place last year and this year, it doesn't mean they'll be there next year or the year after.

"We're No. 3 behind the Oilers and Road Runners,'' said Kirillo of the booking batting order.

"Our dream is to get it to where we're always, always, always in here for the playoff games.''

The world's largest hockey tournament deserves nothing less.


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