Tuesday... And 20+ Years Before That
by Alex Morrison
We finished Monday night with the 326th game of the WC Finals, and only have 256 to go! (Yes, that is a ton of games)
For me, the experience has been unlike any NARCh I’ve been to in the 23 years I have been doing this. This is the first year that I have been to the Finals while not working. Over the course of the first weekend, I had a team of 10 girls that I coached in the first ever 14u Girls division, thanks to Daryn having confidence in the fact that we could get the division filled. I was happy to see it happen, as our team had 7 girls that had never been to the NARCh Finals before, 2 girls playing in just their 2nd tournament ever (the regional being the first), and 3 girls playing in their first ever roller tournament. The entire division was competitive, and the girls had a great time. The girls that were new to NARCh were in awe of the medals they got, as they are unlike anything they have ever seen in ice hockey (or in any other youth sport for that matter). Congratulations also to the Bulldogs for winning the division!
I know that a lot of people here were looking at me wondering why I was in flip flops and a tshirt, as they have never seen me at an event without a black polo on… and I felt the same way. I enjoyed the experience though, as I actually got to sleep on a normal schedule, and had a meal or two away from the rink. Since my first finals in Chicago in 1996, I had never seen the event from only the side of a coach. It was especially sweet as my older daughter played on the team, and my wife and younger daughter got to come and hang out.
Once our division ended yesterday, it was back to work for me. My family left for home, and I donned the polo. It was a busy 12 hours, with 3 championship games, a packed skills competition, and over 50 hockey games to be played. Check out the podcast that we will post later today for some more detailed insight on how the day went down… but a few highlights: 14 games played during that period of time were a tie or 1 goal game, and another 19 games were decided by 2 or 3 goals. This goes to show why the qualifying process works. We go to great lengths to place teams in the bracket that they will be most competitive in, and have rules in place to keep rosters limited, ensuring a better experience for all. While it’s not perfect, cases like this show that it works very well!
I’ve been pretty heavily involved with NARCh for the last couple decades. I started back in ’96 as a ref in Chicago. The next year, I ended up doing the schedule for the event in Vancouver, officiating, and scheduled the refs, as I was lucky enough to be working pro ice hockey during the season, and had a few friends that lived up there and wanted to work. In ’98 and ’99, we were in Alpharetta at the Cooler, and I was doing the team schedule, announcing, arranging the refs, and working as a tournament director. That was the start of the Pro division (It was Platinum before that), and a ton of teams coming in from all 4 corners. Just like you see how many players that have played NARCh make it to the NHL, we have the same on the officiating side. One of the guys that reffed the Stanley Cup Final this year (and just about every one the last few years), Kelly Sutherland, worked with us back then. We have had a couple other guys that have made it to the show as well.
I think that’s why this year’s finals are so special… not just because it’s “The World’s Greatest Roller Hockey”, but because it celebrates everything that has happened leading up to this point. The West Coast Finals are taking place at a rink that we hosted an event at back in the ‘90s, back when it was the Gretzky Center. Irvine has been a great host so far, and the weather has been as perfect as you could possibly ask for. The return to The Cooler next month for the East Coast Finals are a return to the site that so many players had their first NARCh experience. It was truly a conglomeration of the best hockey players in North America under one roof. The photography, the awards, the event staff, it was all better than what anyone had seen before. It was the first 200+ team roller hockey tournament in a single facility in history (who would have thought that we would double that number a few years later!).
For those that are here and are traveling to Atlanta, they will get to be a part of that bit of history, and creating some history on their own. I for one am looking forward to it!