So last year, I had the amazing opportunity, and responsibility (along with some great team members) to set up and take down the five Play On! events that were hosted in Eastern Canada, namely London ON, Mississauga ON, Halifax NS, Mt Pearl NF and Ottawa ON.
If you think playing street hockey as part of Canada’s Largest Sports Festival is fun and exciting, well let me tell you, setting up these mammoth tournaments (50+ rinks!!) in every city is a whole new level of adventure!
Some of the highlights for me definitely included meeting hundreds of new people, seeing familiar faces register and play in multiple events, watching some of the most competitive hockey games I have ever seen in my life, and experiencing the best ball hockey in the world. Knowing I helped to make it all possible was just so incredibly fulfilling.
In London, for example, I had the privilege of watching one young player participate who had only one arm - he still scored a ridiculous number of goals. I have no idea how he could do that! This young man was such an inspiration to watch. I have to admit, I watched more of his games than I should have as I was still on the clock working but it reminded me of just how diverse and inclusive the Play On! program is.
In Mississauga, after we had finished setting up late on Friday, a crazy wind storm ripped through the event site at the Hershey Center. As we arrived at the site again on Saturday morning at 6:00am we were presented with a very unpleasant surprise - several tents had blown away and one happened to securely lodge itself in the side of one of our event trailers. We had to quickly clean up and rebuild get ready for ball drop because... as the story goes... the show must Play On!.
In Halifax, after a crazy 17-hour day of event set-up (and fun) one of our crew members popped into a local restaurant only to be seated right next to the one and only Mario Lemieux. My colleague Ryan was able to get his photo taken with ‘Super Mario’ himself, and, of course, was not shy in rubbing it in the face of everyone who opted out of accompanying him to the restaurant that night.
Ottawa was memorable because Ottawa Senators star Jean Gabriel Pageau, and Boston Bruins star Ryan Spooner each played in the tournament. It is crazy to see just how hard and accurate their shots were. Ryan's team actually ended up winning. I also recall that it rained nearly all weekend in Ottawa, which makes running the tournament so much more difficult, and yet it was so amazing to see the teams continue to enjoy the event in spite of the rain! You know what they say.... rain or shine we Play On!!!
Last year in Mt. Pearl Newfoundland we operated the largest Play On! event of the season with, as I recall, nearly 600 teams. Regardless of scale, that event was epic based on the energy of the community alone. Mount Pearl, and Newfoundland as a whole are filled with a relentless passion for the game of Hockey.
During a break in one of the games, one of our tournament participants Nathan Noel, received a phone call that informed him that he was taken by the Chicago Blackhawks in the fourth round of the NHL Entry Draft, 113th overall.
The emotion on his face, the overwhelming excitement of his teammates and the sheer joy and pride of the community was absolutely electric. I had the privilege of being nearby to see this happen in real time, and one of our crew members captured the phone call that changed his life in this great pic. We were all just so happy for him.
By virtue of my experience on the road I learned how much that Play On! means to so many different people. I heard parents express to me their appreciation for an event that helped get their kids active and playing a sport they loved. I have had players tell me how they have buddies fly in from other parts of the country, or even overseas, so they can reunite and play together just one more time. I heard female players express their love for an event that is all inclusive and provides competitive ball hockey through several female divisions. And of course again there is Nathan Noel who received the greatest phone call of his life at an event that is all about the game that he loves the most.
I've had opportunities to work full time in other industries since last season, but I have remained with this organization because I simply love the work. Not sure about you, but I am so excited about 2017’s Play On! season, Canada's 150th anniversary, and I am definitely #ReadyToRoll.
Mike LaFrance once won an MMA tournament in Japan. He is the always the first guy on the rink if you decide to start something! He worked as the Eastern Canada Operations Manager for Play On! in 2016 and is now back for his second season.