Canton Cup 2013

June 1st, 2013, in Hong Kong

by Dave Gutteridge

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It was as if there had been a clerical error somewhere in the TSHA head office, and by mistake the TSHA executive branch had been sent instead of the team. With an average age somewhere around 40, the biggest asset the TSHA team brought to the Canton Cup in Hong Kong was experience, though mostly experience in financial asset management, failed relationships, and drinking.

I had arrived a night before to do a little standup comedy, and it went well enough that I was asked back for the next night, Friday, when all the other guys were arriving. So they all came down to see my second set, which was a mixed blessing in that they came to see my show, but owing to my shitty directions to the comedy club, they arrived right in the middle of my act, already drunk and without any hesitation in announcing their presence to me, the rest of the audience, and the world. Still, at that point we were mostly gathered, except for Steven who was off being romantic with his fiance at the peak of Hong Kong Island, and Hanzou, who basically works in food service sweat shops and as a result is just about never not working. So it was Rich, Ted, Damon, Patrick, and myself, along with official TSHA supporters Natasha and Naoko.

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Our first team strategy meeting was at a table outdoors at a hip little restaurant that serves a drink called a "Tokyo Tea". We hoped it would be something like a Long Island Iced Tea, but actually it's more like melted green gummy bears who attack your teeth with chisels. The restaurant had entertainment in the form of a young woman who was too drunk to realize that one of the large bay windows beside the door was not itself a door, and she walked into it with enough force to leave a Shroud of Turin style face print behind. Which was amusing enough, but that she then argued with the staff to say that the window should be "fixed" to prevent others from being like her, it was a fairly awesome level of self delusion.

After a round of beverages, we went off to meet Hanzou after his shift at some restaurant in the middle of nowhere, but after a long journey that took nearly as much time as the second movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, we got to the restaurant only to discover that Hanzou went over to where we just were, so we basically spent a chunk of the night travelling to nowhere. Which made it even more like the second movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. We finally did meet up with Hanzou, and a friend of his from Montreal who Patrick was thrilled to discover he could speak Quebecois to. The bar we ended up in had a bevy of attractive women in it when we arrived, but that seemed to change as soon as we bought our drinks. My ego is going to believe that it was just a coincidence of timing.

After drinking Friday night and four hours of sleep, we headed to the YMCA where the tournament was being held. It's a pretty sweet set up. It's got a cover so it's protected from the sun, which was critical in the brutal Hong Kong summer, but it's open on the sides so a breeze can come through. The rink area itself is about the same as our spot in Saitama, though it might be a little wider. It has a sort of concrete surface that's smooth enough. The one oddity you have to account for is that instead of glass above the boards, they have netting. This meant that when passing up the wings, if the ball went too high, the netting would just kill its momentum and it would drop like a stone. Or, it might hit one of the bars supporting the netting and then take a completely unpredictable vector. After a shift or two, you adjusted by ensuring you kept your passes up the boards low, so it wasn't a huge impact on the game. Also, the tournament is four on four, as we usually do, so we were comfortable in our positions.

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It turned out that team India, which were reported to be the 2010 international ball hockey champions, were a no show. There's a possibility that whoever was in touch with the Hong Kong organizers weren't the real team India, and just some guys running a scam to acquire visas, as the TSHA has been contacted for that kind of scam before. But, who knows what really happened. All we know is the schedule changed, and instead of 6 teams all guaranteed playoff spots in two divisions, it was now 5 teams competing for 4 playoff spots, giving more weight to each game.

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After the scheduling reshuffle, our first game was against the Tainan Exploding Whales, who clearly take the top prize for the most awesome team name ever, with an equally awesome literal logo to match. Especially since, as they were quite proud to explain, the incident of the whale that had exploded in the middle of a city was actually their city , it wasn't just a general Taiwan reference. (Also, just for bonus amusement, check out this different, but beyond awesome, exploding whale video . It has nothing to do with the tournament, but how many times is the topic of exploding whales going to come up?)

Anyway, back to the tournament. As the game progressed, the TSHA was right in it, and it could have gone our way. The Tainan players were a little younger and faster, but we found that their plays would break down with the right defensive posture.

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The difference really was goal tending, and here's where I need to talk about our goalie, Brandon. He was a really good goalie, and he made a few saves that kept us in it at key moments. I can't really fault him in any way. It just comes down to this: He's 15 years old. And for a 15 year old, he's an amazing goalie. But in a game where just about everyone else in the rink have been playing ball hockey for longer than Brandon's even been alive, we should be impressed that he held up as well as he did. He never backed down, he never got intimidated, and as much as he let a few soft ones get by, he also came through big on some clutch plays. We would be happy to have him again. He was just a little early for this tournament, and that was his only weakness.

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Sadly, in the end, the TSHA got shut out, zero to three. We didn't quite get our game on enough to convert our scoring chances into goals.

Our next game was against the Mainland Maritimers, who were from Shenzhen. From where, you ask? Apparently there's a huge city with a population of about 20 million people just north of the Hong Kong border that no one has ever heard of, because China has dozens of huge metropolises that no one ever really thinks about. They don't think about them because there's nothing interesting going on there, just a massive industrial town powering China's rise to economic dominance. This is one of those cities, and they have enough of a foreign population that they can float a ball hockey team. And a good one at that.

Again, we managed a respectable game, but the balance of goals just didn't go our way. Hanzou scored off an assist from Rich, and Steven scored off of a set up from Ted. We went into the second half of the game tied at two, but after that they pulled away to win 5 to 2. We earned our first penalty of the day, when Patrick and I collapsed on a Maritimer breaking to our net. It was just one of those plays where everyone was flying to the net and when we all crashed, Patrick happened to land on top of the offensive player, so he took the roughing call. We managed to kill the penalty, though, so it all turned out for the best.

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Game three was against Hong Kong's second team, the Storm, who didn't look too threatening in their first game of the day when they lost to Hong Kong's first team, the Islanders, seven to zero. However, that blowout was a bit of an anomaly. The Storm would end up going to the finals, and we were part of their climb up the standings. Unfortunately, though, the Storm only had white jerseys, so we changed to our red jerseys, which are heavy and long sleeved, making them brutally inappropriate for the climate. We blame our loss largely on this, which means by extension we blame our loss on John La Cara, who designed them.

We managed three goals in this game and even briefly held a 2-1 lead. I managed a one timer just outside of the crease, coming off a pass from Rich on the opposite side. Patrick tallied one of his own off of a special delivery from Damon. And rounding out our set of three was Steven with his second goal of the day, a beautiful backhander which he accomplished without help from anyone else. Unfortunately, the Storm pulled away from us with five goals of their own. C-Level earned two minutes in the box for tripping, but we managed to kill that penalty as well, so we were doing pretty well defensively, despite having two guys, Josh LeBlanc and Steven Slot, who we had never played with before. Both of them really came through for us, though.

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Our last game of the day was against the Hong Kong Islanders, which is their A team. The weird thing about the Hong Kong guys is that throughout the day, both at the tournament and the festivities after, a half dozen times I heard players from the Islanders talk about how they had a reputation for being hot headed and chippy players. A statement which was backed up by their behaviour in the rink. In one game, one of their guys literally threw himself to the ground to re-enact what he thought was a dive by the opposing player, and in our game a guy screamed at the top of his lungs at the ref for what he thought should have been a goal. The thing is, even though they seem to have some self awareness about the fact that they act out a lot when they play hockey, they talk about it as if it's just something that happens, like the weather. As if tantrums and getting grabby is beyond their ability to control, and the option to just, y'know... not do that, is not within their power to achieve.

That said, they were actually totally fine in our game with them. The only outburst was when the ball got behind our goalie and Hanzou managed to sweep it clear before it crossed the goal line, leading to the guy who shot it having a bit of a hissy fit about how he thought it went in. We took it as a good sign that they were getting flustered, probably more to do with the fact that by the end of the first they were up by two, which was less than they expected they would be. However, as was our story all day, good teamwork on their part slowly but surely outclassed our lack of cohesion. We kept up in speed, physicality, and skill, but they were running organized plays, cycling in the offensive zone, making blind passes to the man that was where he needed to be, and crashing the net for rebounds at the right time. They were the superior team unit, and it showed.

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We lost to the Islanders 7-0, and with that we were eliminated from the tournament. Still, we stuck around to have some convenience store drinks and watch the playoffs, where the final game, with Storm versus the Islanders, came down to a great nail biter with the Storm within one and great chances with the goalie pulled. The Islanders won the day, and the totally awesome dragon shaped trophy, by beating the Storm 5 to 4.

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The rink we played at is actually a long but reasonable walk from all our respective hotels, so at the end of the day, we headed back for showers, and then gathered in the lobby of the Sheraton. If you haven't been to Hong Kong recently, you need to know this about walking around the Kowloon area: Every 50 metres or so, there's a South Asian dude who will either ask you if you want a watch or a tailored suit. That's during the day. During the night, one out of every five of those guys will ask you if you want weed. Or at least, that's the deal if you're Ted. In the eyes of Pushers from Pakistan, Ted looks like a dude who needs to get mellow tonight. For most of the time, I wasn't offered anything medicinal, but on this one walk, with me, Ted, and Natasha, heading from our hostel to the Sheraton, a dude offered me "hashish or coke". I took the offer of the drug of choice of stock traders in the 80s as an indication that I looked like that much more of a baller than Ted, though really it was probably just because I was the only guy in our group not wearing shorts.

The apres-tournament party was at a Mexican place in Wan Chai with great food called Coyote, where people like me who don't like beer can make up for it with margaritas. Hanzou bailed early, making the sensible choice to spend his evening with a hottie he claimed was a "friend" from Bangkok. Our fearless leader Rich made a short speech, thanking our hosts for a great tournament, and inviting them to come visit us in October, which got a positive response. It was good times, talking with the other guys from the tournament, hanging out with each other, and conversing with Drunk Taylor, who was... drunk.

After Coyote, the TSHA group followed the rest of the hockey players to a club called Escape, which featured a presumably Filipino band doing cover songs from the eighties and nineties. They were actually pretty good, though Natasha was ready to throw down and sing most of their songs better than they did.

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If you don't know Wan Chai, then all you need to know is this: Filipino hookers. Actually, I don't know if they were all Filipino. Nor am I sure all the women were in fact hookers. Some of the venues make it explicit, but the club we were in was a mix. For all the women in the club we were in, they all had a 1980s bodycon style that gave a strong pay-per-view impression, even if maybe some of them weren't.

It was a bit of a challenge to get a good vibe going because there had been some big sports championship game on the same day. Rugby or Aussie rules football or hurling or some sport that I refuse to dedicate brain cells to verifying exactly what it was, and the whole area was infested with old British men with distended beer bellies in rugby shirts, with popped collars as a clear signal to save you from having to interact with them before discerning their douchebag personalities. Almost every bar was lousy with these guys, spilling out into the streets. After being in Escape for a while and spending some quality time with our hosts from the HK Islanders and having a good time despite the crowd, we felt the need to escape, and since every venue was either a brothel or a gathering point for neckless chavs, we decided to hop into a cab in search of better.

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However, just before that happened, we stumbled across a contingent of five guys from the Exploding Whales who were having beers on the street in front of a Circle K, so we opted to chill on some steps and talk with them. By "talk" I mean an exchange of slurred drunken rants because those guys were hammered when we got to them, and our group wasn't far behind. We hung out for a while, and then caught a cab back to our respective hotels.

A big thanks from the TSHA to the organizers of the 2013 Canton Cup for a well organized tournament, for being a good group of guys to hang with, and for having the sense to hold a tournament in a great city like Hong Kong.

And that was the 2013 Canton Cup from the point of view of the TSHA. Or at least from my point of view. And to round out the recap, we need some individual mentions of Awards of Awesomeness:

Steven Slot and Josh LeBlanc - for helping round out our roster with great defense.

Brandon (Goalie) - for entering an arena of men and holding his own.

Damon Lawson - for giving hope to those of us in our forties that it's still possible to be an even better player in our future.

Patrick "The Positron" Dupuis - for being as positive as a puppy and embracing every experience like it was the best thing that ever happened.

Dave Gutteridge - for maintaining his record of scoring at least once in every tournament outside of Tokyo he appears in.

David "C-Level" Nichols - for gooning it up when we needed to shut down the offense.

Steven Couture - for being a scoring machine, with 40% of all our tournament goals.

Hanzhou Piao - for not being as old as the rest of us.

Ted Hunter - for bringing Natasha.

Richard Fogarty - for being our fearless leader, team captain, and doing whatever it took to get a TSHA team in the Canton Cup.

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