Graham MacDonald lugged his hockey bag into Dressing Room 2 of the Canlan Ice Sports rink at York University.
Before him sat a training table with tape, water, spots drinks and coolers. Hanging in a stall was a white Maple Leafs jersey bearing his name and number.
“Finally made it,” he grinned.
True enough. For one night MacDonald, a Scarborough sales rep whose company makes air filters and his hockey buddies on the Colts, Adrian ‘Rat’ Ruegsesser and Harry Ojanen – who bears some a passing resemblance to Phi Kessel as long as both stay off the ice -Geoff Goodfellow and all the boys had their moment in the winter sun.
It’s called the Coke Zero Ambush Night. The Colts and their opponents, Delta Force, were given the hockey night of their lives. The idea is to give beer league hockey players an unforgettable big time experience but what is true of small imported cars is also true of hockey players: you can trick them up all you want but it doesn’t change how fast they run.
Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski coached the Colts. When it was put to Kulemin that he might have to motivate his new players he smiled broadly and displayed a distinct kicking motion.
The Colts are a collection of graphic artists, pharmacologists, teachers, financial planners and money managers. They are a veteran outfit and the kind of the team where the better players bring a pair of sticks in the unlikely event they hit something hard enough to break one.
The Colts are mindful of the rules governing suds in the dressing room. In most beer leagues two guys are in charge of the brew so if one is hit by a truck on the way over the night can still be salvaged. The English do much the same thing when transporting the Royal Family.
There is Olivier Marquis, who works for the Teachers’ Pension Fund and the Griznic brothers, Edgar and Bernie and Mike Cornelissen who is a Canadiens fan. The sight of him pulling on a Leafs jersey was almost too sweet for his friends to bear.
The core of the Colts is a group of about ten, captained by goalie Mike Addie. If you’ve been around three or four years, you’re still pretty much a rookie on the Colts. Some of the guys have known each other since they were eight years old.
“We’ll drive by 25 rinks to get here to play on this team and be with these guys,” said Cornelissen and it is this way with all good teams.
Outside, Joe Bowen would deliver buckshot commentary over the intercom. Andy Frost stood ready to introduce the players and announce the goals and penalties. Darcy Tucker and Darryl Sittler were brought in to drop the first puck and add a little class.
On the Delta Force bench Colby Armstrong and Tim Connolly were ostensibly in charge. The four Leafs wore microphones which meant nothing at all for Connolly, Kulemin and Grabovski. Armstrong’s voice will likely echo around the arena for a couple more days.
You should know that everyone had a great time. The Colts beat Delta Force 2-1 thanks to goals from well-known snipers Jeff Rands and Trevor Wallace. Media, including some national news services were waiting to speak to a few of the players. Really. The gang was given all manner of swag and tickets to a Leafs game.
Addie delivered the save of the night with about a dozen seconds left to preserve the win and everyone gathered for a team picture. The gang then turned around so their families in the stands could grab one too.
Maybe the quote of the night belonged to another Colt, Pat Ayranto.
When it was pointed out that he was pulling a Leafs sweater over Montreal Canadiens hockey pants, he shrugged.
“Got the pants for free,” is all he said.