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Scintillating peewee playoffs



By BRET HART -- For SLAM! Wrestling

  When I was growing up, I really, really wanted to be a hockey player but, in a family of 12 kids, it would have been too difficult for my parents to manage it.

Wrestling shoes or sneakers were much more practical than hockey skates.

One of the highlights and a distinct turning point in my life came when I competed in the city high school wrestling championships at age 16.

My brother Dean had been city champion two years before and my father was so very proud of him. I wished he could be proud of me for something, too, and it inspired me to train for months and cut weight to wrestle in a lower weight class.

I was only 145 lb. in Grade 11 at Ernest Manning and there were more than 30 competitors in that weight class.

For weeks, I focused and prepared and, when my brother Keith came to pick me up, just as the tournament was wrapping up, they were presenting me with my first real accomplishment, the gold medal.

Times have changed.

My son Blade, 12, loves hockey. And I love watching him play.

He's a goalie for the Springbank Ice Demons, a peewee team.

Over the past week, they've competed, like countless other kids throughout the city, in the playoffs. It seemed like every game I watched, the kids played harder and the scores got closer.

In Springbank's first playoff game, they won in overtime and Blade got his first shutout. The second playoff game was another overtime nailbiter, with Blade stopping a penalty shot in OT -- and Springbank again prevailed.

The third game was 1-0, a shutout again!

A showdown was building with the Crowfoot Mustangs, a team Blade used to play for and where many of his old friends and teammates still play.

Last Saturday, in a game that left parents of kids on both teams oohing and ahhing like it was the NHL, the Mustangs managed to send a floater just off Blade's glove for a 2-1 win. In peewee playoffs, it takes two losses to get eliminated, so by winning their game on Sunday, Springbank found themselves in a rematch with Crowfoot on Monday.

Springbank's star forward, Neil Maitland, led the charge in a glorious 4-1 victory, handing Crowfoot its first loss, which put both teams in the city championships for a third and final rematch.

The stands were packed Wednesday night at the Rose Kahn Arena.

I don't mind telling you, the goaltending on both sides was spectacular and it was at that moment I realized all the practices and hard work had come down to a precious few minutes that had everyone standing and cheering.

With 8:06 left in the third, Crowfoot's Corey Boulet scored by roofing a beautiful shot over Blade's left shoulder -- as my heart sank.

I watched my son skate confidently back and forth between the posts and I was impressed he didn't seem rattled.

Springbank coach Dale Brummitt called for his team to dig a little deeper and Reese Brummitt managed a screen shot that went through all kinds of legs to tie the game.

With about two minutes remaining, Orr Pomminville lobbed a high floater that dropped at the last second perfectly into the top left corner to give Springbank the lead.

For the next three minutes I chewed my knuckles. Ten ... nine .... eight ... Blade stood rock-solid and Springbank shut them down.

As they lined up at centrr ice shaking hands, I was impressed with the exemplary sportsmanship on both sides.

Not one parent left disappointed, especially me. You see, with Blade being the first Hart kid to ever win a gold medal in hockey, at long last the Hart family chain to wrestling has been broken.

It's a wonderful feeling to see my son fulfil one of my dreams -- and his -- at the same time.

After the game, Blade and I visited with my dad and, as I had done so many years before, Blade opened his hand and held his medal out to Stu. It was even more special for me this time.

I'd like to take this moment to acknowledge all the often unseen people throughout Calgary that give up so much of their time to make dreams come true -- the coaches, referees, Zamboni drivers and the staff that runs all the arenas -- for another great season and for passing Canada's national pastime down to the next generation.

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