By: Robert Desimone, Communications Manager
The road trip began like any other, team bus leaving from the apartments at 5:15 AM, arriving at George Bush Intercontinental Airport at 6:15. The flight departed for Milwaukee shortly after 7 and upon arrival in Chicago the team hopped on the bus for the ride up to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, arriving at the hotel around noon.
Broadcaster Joe O’Donnell and I checked into our room at the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee, went for a lunch where we were joined briefly by Head Athletic Trainer Jody Green, and returned to the hotel room to take care of some office work. After a quick workout, we joined the team bus at 5:15 PM to head to Racine, Wisconsin for a dinner party with Minnesota Sports and Entertainment Owner Craig Leipold.
For those who have had the opportunity to meet and converse with Leipold, they immediately know the laid back, genuine personality that is true of many Wisconsin natives. So, it was no surprise as we entered that we were told to make ourselves at home, the TVs were tuned to the Olympics, the Walleyball court was set up, and the tournament bracket was displayed for all to see.
On the pool table lay shirts labeled Houston Aeros and Minnesota Wild, and six different colored bandanas to be worn by each of the six teams. After the teams gathered, and the addition of Green, O’Donnell, and myself were made to fill open spots, the tournament began.
Much like any all-star game, the first round of the tournament was not played at the highest intensity. As the tournament wore on, however, the intensity level picked up and the true desire of the players to win the tournament and the grand prize began to show.
The Cinderella story of the tournament was a team written out of the books after falling in the opening round to the New Territory Big Horns, who I thought would be the eventual champions (mainly because it was my team). The team of Petr Kalus, Duncan Milroy, Cody Almond and myself cruised to a 9-4 victory over Nathan Smith, Jamie Fraser, J-M Daoust and Chad Rau, but it would be the only loss of the night for the North West Big Rack Slayers.
As the first round came to a conclusion, the buffet dinner was served, filled with tenderloin sandwiches, Minnesota wild rice, pasta, asparagus and salad (and words can not fully describe just how good the meal was).
The games continued as the players and spectators (including Wild GM Chuck Fletcher and Aeros GM Jim Mill) ate, talked, and enjoyed the great, often times funny, entertainment provided by the walleyball tournament and Olympics.
The Cinderella team began to turn things around in the second round with an 8-6 victory over Texas Toast, and 5-1 victory over the Wahoo Maniacs.
As the teams entered the fourth round, the TVs showed Team Canada in a 2-2 duel with Switzerland. Texas Toast became the first team to three victories and eliminated the Big Horns with a 5-3 win. A Slayers victory over the Sugar Land Throat Choppers set up a championship showdown between the two teams.
Texas Toast and the Slayers played a close game that included many long rallies. The strategy of using the sidewalls, one that was rarely and almost accidentally played at the beginning of the tournament was used nearly every possession.
The Slayers were able to take control of the match and finished off Texas Toast, and an almost stunned celebration followed as the team appeared to be more in disbelief that they had defeated the team many considered to be the best in the tournament.
The team finished dessert and watched the dramatic 3-2 victory for Canada as Sydney Crosby sealed the victory in the fourth round of the shootout.
Leipold briefly addressed the team, congratulating the winners and giving them the grand prize, an outdoor flashlight and a USA hockey hat from the 2010 Olympic Games.
As the team prepared to leave, the Walleyball court quickly turned into a basketball court where a few of the players showed some skill on the court (most notable of the players were Justin Falk and JP Testwuide who displayed some shooting touch from behind the three point line). The most impressive showing though came from Head Coach Kevin Constantine who went 11-for-12 from the free throw line to defeat me (9-for-12) in a quick free throw shooting contest. He has already accepted the challenge of a rematch and needless to say that will be happening in the near future.
After a few more minutes of talking it was time to head out, so we loaded up on the bus for the brief drive back to the hotel in preparation for the weekend of games, ending a competitive, but fun night on the road.
- Unofficial tournament MVP was Jamie Fraser, who was the number one overall selection in the tournament (selected by captain Nathan Smith) and helped lead the Slayers to the title.
- O’Donnell finished the game with a number of skid marks on his legs, he is given the unofficial “Berlin Wall” award for most times falling to the ground (you will understand the Berlin Wall connection with the photo gallery below).
- Petr Kalus received the unofficial “Sky’s the Limit” award for most hits off the ceiling, which resulted in a replay of the point.
- Matt Kassian received the unofficial “All-Out” award for producing the most perspiration of any player on the night.
Leipold Addressing the team after the tournament.
The winners receiving their prizes
A piece of the Berlin Wall outside the Leipold residence.