TampaCuse just won't let me go, even in the summer time.
I'm not exactly complaining.
In the midst of planning a weekend trip to Quebec City with my partner in crime Cassie (with whom I went to Florida in 2014 and then took a spin around California for a few Lightning games with her in 2015), it came to our attention that former Syracuse Crunch goalie Cedrick Desjardins was putting on a Boot Camp for charity with professional hockey players. The tournament was scheduled for the third weekend in August and, surprisingly, that weekend worked out for both of us. Although rosters weren't known when we decided to go, we hoped that maybe we'd get lucky and be able to see some of our favorites.
Well, let me just say that luck was most certainly on our side.
Last year, 11 players associated with the Tampa Bay organization played in the tournament. This year, nine Lightning organizational players plus P.C. Labrie, Brett Connolly, and Mark Barberio--who are no longer with the Lightning but who were a part of the original TampaCuse group - headed to Quebec. The three day tournament took place at the Centre sportif Ste-Foy, and for a little under $22 Canadian we enjoyed a full weekend of hockey.
Besides Barberio, Connolly, and Labrie, Alex Killorn, Andrej Sustr, Jonathan Drouin, Cedric Paquette, Daniel Walcott, Jonathan Marchessault, Luke Witkowski, Yanni Gourde, and a goalie by the name of Charles Lavigne (who played for Syracuse for one game in 2014) all suited up with lightning bolts on their Boot Camp jerseys. Barberio (who, by the way, sported Lightning pants while wearing Montreal gloves), Connolly, Labrie, Killorn, Sustr, and Drouin all played on one team with each other. Ryan Murphy, Christian Thomas, and Louis Domingue made up the rest of their group. Paquette and Walcott were put on the same team, and they played alongside Alex Burrows, Antoine Roussel, Steve Bernier, Xavier Ouellet, Anthony Mantha, Jonathan Diaby, and Etienne Marcoux. The final TampaCuse-themed team saw Marchessault, Witkowski, Gourde, and Lavigne playing with Mikhail Grigorenko, Steven Delisle, Michael Chaput, and Guillaume Gelinas.
In addition to those teams, there were three more that did not feature TampaCuse organizational players. 54 professional hockey players participated in the tournament in all, and the availability of the players was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend. Many of them spent time out in the lobby speaking to fans, signing autographs, and taking pictures with tournament goers before or after their games. It was easy to see that making a memorable yet affordable weekend for hockey fans young and old was one of the larger intentions of the tournament.
Fans who attended the tournament got to see three games Friday night, six games throughout the day on Saturday, and three games Sunday afternoon. The four teams with the highest point totals throughout Friday and Saturday faced off on Sunday, with a winner ultimately declared in the final game of the weekend. Each game was three periods long, although the periods themselves were only fifteen minutes. Between the first and second period and the second and third period, fans were treated to one shootout try apiece for each of the competing teams, with any goals added to the team's overall score.
Game-wise, watching the tournament was a lot like watching an All-Star game. There was little physical contact, although every now and then someone would end up knocked over or interfered with. The player in question usually came up laughing and chirping, so it was clearly all friendly. I think two penalties were called the whole weekend. From a hockey aspect, it was really fun to see who had clearly been training hard already. Guys like Barberio, Marchessault, and Gourde already looked like they're going to be out to prove themselves this fall, which isn't really a surprise given each of their situations. It was great being able to finally get a look at Walcott, and I can say that after watching him all weekend I'd really like him to end up in Syracuse sometime soon. He more than held his own against professional players for a guy who hasn't played a day in the AHL or the NHL. Additionally, on a personal note, getting to see Witkowski in August was a special treat indeed.
Although none of the teams that featured TampaCuse organizational players made it to the final round on Sunday, neither Cassie nor I felt like we missed out. One of the highlights of the weekend for both of us actually came on Saturday, when the team that featured mostly Lightning players or former Lightning players from last season - Killorn, Barberio, Connolly, etc. - faced off against the team that featured mostly Syracuse guys from last season - Witkowski, Marchessault, Gourde, etc. Watching those two teams face each other was a very unique opportunity, although it was also a bit surreal. Adding to the fun of the moment was the fact that Cassie's loyalties were firmly in the first camp while mine were rather rooted in the second, so there was probably as much fun ribbing going on in the stands as there was on the ice.
(Incidentally, the "Syracuse Team" won that round. I'd swear I didn't smile as I wrote that, but I'd be lying.)
Fans could certainly get enough hockey to tide them over to October if they attended the whole weekend, which is why it was surprising that more people didn't take advantage of this opportunity. Desjardins had done a lot of promotion work through social media to try to get the word out about it all, but the attendance just seemed really sparse to Cassie and I, especially on Saturday. Friday night did see a sellout of available tickets, but the other two days didn't seem to do nearly as well. One of the reasons I'm writing about this here is that it could just be that not a lot of people outside of Quebec really know of this weekend, with even less people in the States aware of what a great chance it really is. We were told by a few of the volunteers that we were in the minority when it came to Americans being there that weekend.
No matter who plays in the tournament, the weekend is a unique opportunity for many reasons. In addition to the hockey, Cassie and I toured the Citadelle of Quebec and took a drive around the older parts of town. I think we both would have liked to spend more time there. All in all, I would really recommend looking into this tournament next year for any hockey fan fearing the summer doldrums!