I wrote a small piece a few weeks ago about the event, but even then I had little idea what it was really all about. I understood the basics about it being for charity and how skaters (and non-skaters) were coming together from across the UK to play, but I didn’t understand just how important the event is to the larger hockey community, and I certainly didn’t understand how much fun it was going to be.
— Kim McGreal (@CarolinaKaniac) July 26, 2014
There were 8 teams in all, each one raising money for a specific charity: Autism Plus, Blue Cross, Breast Cancer Care, British Heart Foundation, Dreams Come True, Help for Heroes, Prostate Cancer UK and Sheffield Children’s Hospital. Players sign up and select which of the teams they want to represent, and then – with very little time on the ice to practice – they play in front of a huge audience!
Suzi Grieve is a skater with Cardiff Comets, as well as coach for the Cardiff Devils Sledge Hockey Team. It took us two days to actually co-ordinate, due to the number of games happened, but I finally managed to grab her for a few minutes and find out how the weekend was going for her. This was her second All Star Weekend, and this time she was playing for team Autism Plus – a charity that I know is very close to her heart.
“I first got involved with the All Stars in 2009 down in Basingstoke when I played on the Dreams Come True team. I unfortunately missed the event the following year due to working in America for the Summer. I was honoured the following year when I was asked if I would like to captain the 2011 Sheffield Children’s Hospital team. I have since represented Breast Cancer Care in 2012, St. Luke’s Hospice in 2013 and this year Dreams Come True once again. It’s amazing to be a part of something so special, helping to raise a phenomenal amount for some very worthy causes, and having good fun along the way.”
– Scott Antcliffe: Dreams Come True
“It’s a great opportunity to play a lot of hockey and raise a lot of money at the same time. It’s a great way to bond with the hockey community and promote the charities. It’s always tough at first in a tournament like this because you don’t know each other, so our captain for our first game had to just put us in lines without knowing our abilities.”
– Suzi Grieve: Autism Plus
The format of the weekend saw a series of 28 round robin games, followed by 4 playoff ones. Each game was 18 minutes long, with a running clock and penalty shots awarded instead of penalties. Due to the extreme variation in skills levels, lines were set so that all teams had their best players on line one, then the next on line two, and so on, with complete line changes being made every 90 seconds.
If you think that last part would get messy, you’d be very very correct. I’ve seen some bad line changes, but these were hysterical. My personal favourites were every time the 3rd line was coming off the ice and the 1st line was heading back on. I swear there were several players who got run over by their own teammates. Although to be fair, the goalie changes at times were even funnier.
“This was my 3rd all stars. My first one was in Cardiff I applied for the event because I wanted to help raise money for charity and I thought it was such a great idea doing it with hockey something that I really enjoyed. But I never realised how fun it would be and how friendly everyone was. Its such a great atmosphere. This continued through the years but this one has been my favourite so far.”
– Gemma Davies: Netminder, Dreams Come True
But that laughter pretty much sums up the weekend. While there were moments on the ice where tempers were starting to flare a little (I blame a lot of that on exhaustion and probable hangovers!), there was also a lot of fun. In between games, teams were doing the Hokey Cokey or YMCA. The Blue Cross team all wore animal masks on their helmets. One of my favourite moments came near the start of the game when Jordan Wilshire scored a lovely goal, and then went over to Kes Smith, the netminder she’d just scored on, and hugged him.Despite the mixture of abilities, the one thing that every player had in common was a dedication to do the best they could. I managed to catch up with Tom Walkeden (from Frozen Steel Blog) who was playing for the Blue Cross team, despite not having skated for five years. Despite the obvious challenges around playing in a tournament like this, he was obviously loving it.
“I came last year to watch and had a fantastic weekend. I just wanted to get involved, play the game I love, and raise some money.”
– Tom Walkeden: Blue Cross
One of the moments that I’m sure will stick in everyone’s minds was during the last game of the round robin section. Dreams Come True and Prostate Cancer UK were on the ice, and nearing the end of the game, the score was at 1-1. The winner of this game would go through to the 3rd/4th place game, but if they drew, neither would. In a display of fantastic sportsmanship, Prostate Cancer UK “forced” a play that would give Dreams Come True a penalty shot. On one condition – that it was taken by a specific player, Ashley Jones (better known to the hockey world as AJ). There was no missing AJ on the ice, as he could barely stand upright on the ice, let alone skate or take a shot on goal. It didn’t stop anyone though, and with both teams and every person watching cheering him on (and a little assistance from the referees who moved the goalposts – literally!), he scored his first ice hockey goal.
“Having Zero skating skills and zero handling skills and being welcomed as an equal is the thing that means the most. The whole weekend is about fun and enjoying yourself and when Prostate Cancer UK ‘manufactured’ a mugging at centre ice and a subsequent penalty shot which I had to take (and ‘scored’) it just encapsulates what the weekend is all about. It means so much to make friends and take the memories away from the weekend.”
– AJ: Dreams Come True
The fun wasn’t over even when it came to the playoff games. The 7th/8th place game ended in a tie, so went to a penalty shootout that lasted so long even TJ Oshie would have struggled with it. The 5th/6th place game started with the two netminders taking the faceoff and then ended with literally every player from both teams on the ice for the final shift. And the 3rd/4th place game began with a bench-clearing “brawl” that had players rolling around on the ice “fighting” (and maybe doing a little hugging too).
The final game came down to Autism Plus vs Blue Cross. Taken a little more seriously than the others, both teams were determined to get the win. It was such a close game, with all three lines on both teams giving it everything they had. But in the end, it was Autism Plus who scored the final goal, winning 3-2, much to both the delight and dismay of the audience, depending on which team they’d chosen to support! I’ll admit that thanks to my friendship with Suzi, I was cheering for Autism Plus all along, but I was heartbroken for friend-of-the-blog Tom (with his little monkey mask on).Although, as I said on Twitter at the end of the day, the real winners of the tournament were the 8 charities. So a huge thank you to everyone involved with the tournament, especially David Grant and Gareth Hubback, the co-organisers of the event who I’m sure went to crazy lengths to make sure everything ran as smoothly as it did. Thank you to every one of the players, who made it an event totally worth watching.
And I’ll see you all at the next one in 2015!