Green dream

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:28 AM ET

The fighting Irish didn't raise a hand in anger for four days of hockey and still won the inaugural Crown Royal Multicultural Tournament.

There was only backslapping after they bested the First Nations Thunderbirds 8-4 yesterday in the final at Scarborough Arena.

A few thousand fans took in the 39 games at Scarborough and Ted Reeve arenas involving 16 teams of ex-juniors and minor leaguers from various ethnic communities in the Greater Toronto Area.

The Italian Gladiators beat the Korean White Tigers in the consolation round.

No one from the competing teams dropped the gloves, on the ice or in the stands and the only crowd incident was a hockey mom raising the roof when her son was two-handed.

"I think people know how to react at an event such as this," said 34-year-old Irish captain Shane Bowler. "Hockey unites us ... it's a common ground, a good place for relationships to start.

"Of course, we all had a few reservations before the tournament started, but we were blown away with the quality of the teams. When we played the Macedonians they packed the arena. If this idea can work here, it can get bigger and work anywhere, maybe a cross-country event."

The tournament, which could lead to a permanent league in 2006, was meant to help players, fans and family identify with their new country using hockey as a common denominator.

Having the original Canadians and one of the country's oldest immigrant populations represented in yesterday final was a perfect ending.

The Thunderbirds, mostly based in Manitoulin Island, bussed in a large group of fans.

"It's a six- to eight-hour drive and they took time out of their holidays to support us," said T-Birds general manager/goaltender Kevin Wassegijig. "That's very important to us.

"We hadn't seen any of the teams play, we had no idea where we would stand or if we'd get blown out of the water. So we're happy to make it this far and hopefully we'll be back."

Randy Fitzgerald of the Shamrocks was MVP for the final, with two goals and an assist. The $5,000 the Irish won will go to Rose Cherry's home for kids charity.

Tom Viola had three assists.

Sam Katsuras of the Hellenic Lightning won $1,000 as most gentlemanly player of the event. The Canadian Cup trophy is earmarked for the Hockey Hall Of Fame.

"We're going to take a good look at the results and decide if it's better to go with a league next year or come back with a bigger tournament," tournament founder Stan Papulkas said.


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