Yamato Cup 2008

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This is a write up of the 2008 Yamato Cup from the viewpoint of the TSHA. For an account that is both less biased and bitter about the results, please see the write up on the Yamato Cup web site .

Please check out the videos from this tournament .

It was a Monday morning in May when three members of the TSHA were barely on time for their flight back to Tokyo from Seoul. Maybe it was the altitude, maybe it was the hangover, but the idea was born that Tokyo should host a hockey tournament.

The Seoul tournament had been inspiring. Our hosts had been gracious, the games had been competitive and fun, and the TSHA's ruthless exploration of Seoul would be the source of many future anecdotes. A desire to host tournaments had been rekindled. Ever since the Mekong Cup in 2002, the TSHA had wanted to participate in more tournaments, and had pondered hosting a tournament in Tokyo. Finally, in 2008, the time was right for the TSHA's usual dispassionate ennui to be overtaken by their propensity for obsessive compulsive behaviours.

By the time the flight was over the Sea Of Japan, the name of the tournament, The Legendary Yamato Cup, had been decided. John, who has aspirations of starting a Japan wide ball hockey federation, the JSBHF, would apply his experience from having run ball hockey leagues and tournaments in Canada, and from having participated in them all across Asia. Paul would bring his marketing and management skills to help get the word out. And Dave would confuse and obstruct progress. When they arrived back in Tokyo, the other core TSHA organizers and Korea Tournament participants, Ted and Chad, enthusiastically joined in the tournament creation process with only a minimum of blackmail to encourage them.

In the months that followed, web sites were built, teams across Asia were contacted, a space was found, and the TSHA began practising like they had never practised before. The TSHA lived for the upcoming tournament.

As October approached, Team Korea had committed a team, and we had a team from a Japanese inline hockey group called the Misconduct Hockey League (MHL). There were some other individuals coming in from around Asia, but the cost of travel had jumped due to fuel prices, prohibiting some teams that had originally intended on coming from making the distance to Japan. Our original hopes for some teams, such as from Hong Kong and Thailand, were dashed against economic forces beyond our control.

In order to try and create a tournament that was competitive and varied, John formed a team called "The Beavers", whose players were mainly abductees that had little legal recourse owing to being foreigners in Japan. And the TSHA factionalized into two teams, one under the TSHA banner, and the other under the name "The Boring Sponges". The name was chosen because nothing says old time hockey like invertebrate sea life.

Game day finally came, and it lived up to all expectations. Everyone was had a good time when not playing, and commited to winning when out on the "ice".

Really, the main competition was between the TSHA, Team Korea, and the MHL. In the round robin portion of the tournament, TSHA lost to MHL, then MHL lost to Team Korea, then Team Korea lost to the TSHA, demonstrating the parity and the potential for any of them to win.

The Beavers have to be given credit for never giving up. Goals rained down upon them like the relentless punishment of a wrathful god. They tallied no victories, but they were possibly the best looking team out there, in John's custom made uniforms, complete with socks.

The Boring Sponges, while they worked hard and had offensive depth with players like Sean, Gord, and Nathan, they suffered for a lack of truly defensive players. They could have used the likes of a Ted or a Michel so that they didn't keep getting caught having to race back from an offensive rush. As it was, goalie Lance did all he could, but even his strong goal tending could not stand up against the hailstorm of shots that resulted from the AWOL defense. As the day went on, they were plagued by injuries and players having to leave early.

The MHL had the most consistency in terms of quality of players. They had no weak links on their bench, and three or four of their players were truly exceptional. One of the plays of the day came from an MHLer who used his stick to flip the ball behind him so that he could then kick it up and over him to get it in front of the net. Sean denied the play from completing, but it looked damned good.

MHL also had two women who in every way were every bit as much a force to be reckoned with as any of the men out playing. One of them made a spectacular Bobby Orr style goal, jumping over the diving goal tender and making the shot while in mid flight.

While the MHL forced everyone to up their game with their tenacious and highly skilled players, in a way it was destiny that the tournament would come down to the TSHA versus Team Korea. The rivalry had been building for months, ever since the tournament in Seoul. Both teams have very similar temperments and style of play. Team Korea has slightly more size, and TSHA a little more speed, but both have the exact same level of the most crucial quality that any team can possess: will to win.

Probably one of the most telling indicators of the even balance of both teams was that the trophy for most goals was tied between one TSHA player, Colin, and one Team Korea, Jamal.

The final game as a moment by moment nail biter, with both teams trading goals all game long. It was a good clean game, with no penalties, and few whistles except for the kind of stoppages you expect from things like the ball going out of play or getting trapped for too long and that sort of thing.

In the final moments of the game, Team Korea was up 5 to 4, and the TSHA was determined to find that tying goal to force an overtime. And they came controversially close, as is often the case in such tight games. Greg made a shot that went behind the goalie and ricoched off the far post. One of the refs mometarily thought it went in and blew the whistle, but it was immediately recognized as no goal and play was allowed to continue. Some of the players heard the whistle, and paused, critically affecting the flow of the game. There were only seconds left, though, leaving no room for mistakes or pauses. Team Korea held their one goal lead has the buzzer went off to indicate the end of the game.

It was a crushing defeat for the TSHA, as they had hoped to redeem the losses they took in Korea six months previous. But there was no doubt that Team Korea earned their name on the Golden Godzilla trophy. They played a clean, focused game, and put their all into it.

After the game, just about all the players from all the teams went out to an izakaya in Ueno for post-tournament drinks and celebration. Trophies were handed out, and, maybe the most important part of the tournament, all the players got a chance to laugh it up together.

Finally, in closing, the tournament wasn't just a bunch of goofs chasing balls with sticks. We set a goals-for-charity program where players got friends and family to donate money depending on how many goals were scored, with money going to Second Harvest Japan , a food bank that supports people in need all across Japan. It upped the motivation to score goals for those who participated. Also, John donated a JSBHF jersey to auction off at the izakaya, with the proceeds going to Second Harvest as well.

All told, between the goals sponsorship, the jersey auction, and the JSHBF, we raised 120,000 yen for Second Harvest Japan .

The party went on into the night, naturally taking Team Korea members on a tour of the seedier parts of Tokyo. The next day a few people showed up for a little friendly hockey at our usual spot in Asakusa.

In the end, the tournament was everything we hoped it would be. Good hockey, lots of fun, and we did something we can feel good about.

Still, that 5 to 4 loss lingers. The TSHA will be looking to win back some pride at future tournaments. Korea in the spring of 2009, maybe?