2017-01-17 / Sports

Lord of the Rinks: Return of the King

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By Taylor Morrison
Assistant Sports Editor

BIDDEFORD -- All weekend the neon signs written in bold, black permanent marker welcomed Squirt and Peewee teams from Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut to the fourth annual King of the Rink tournament at the one rink to rule them all, the Biddeford Ice Arena. Starting Friday, teams competed in friendly house hockey matches for prizes and trophies awarded Sunday.

Tournament director Bob Couture said, “we’re just trying to do something fun for the kids at the lower level because usually tournaments are geared toward the higher-level kids. Basically, we’re just trying to grow the game.”

In the grand scheme of things, the hosting Biddeford Youth Hockey Association (BYHA) lost the battle, but won the war. Though the home team put up a strong side at both levels, they did not make it to the championship match. However, proceeds from the tournament benefit the BYHA's Playmaker fund for players who require financial assistance for the costly sport.

New President of the Biddeford Youth Hockey Association, Dan McGarry said, "this tournament was started four years ago and it's kind of our signature event of the year. Tier four hockey isn't quite as glamorous as the travel hockey programs, so this is probably one of the few chances these teams are going to get to travel to a tournament outside of their state."

If you saw more Connecticut license plates in Biddeford than usual this weekend, it is because the tournament draws a fair crowd. In this structurally ambitious two-division tournament, both Squirts and Peewees brought a well-represented entourage to town. There were six teams competing in each division for a total of twelve teams. Many players had parents and grandparents accompany them to the tournament, along with volunteer coaches, siblings and spouses.

McGarry said, "We coach this not to put our boys and girls out there and sort of pad our resume, but basically to provide an opportunity for other associations to come to southern Maine when they might not normally, the middle of January."

Especially rewarding for the weary travelers from the south, the Enfield, Connecticut team skated into something of Cinderella story on ice. After a double-digit losing streak at home, the Enfield side swept the competition from four states and won the Peewee King of the Rink championship.

Norine Auretta, mother of Enfield's Michael Auretta, said, "I'm absolutely ecstatic and proud of them as a team.. It has been a long weekend but they won all four games. It's been a tough season, but they played as a team, they played together, they played with heart."

In the final game, Enfield's Jordan Blais, Colby Esposito, Vincenzo Rumore and many more contributed to the avalanche of goals that was Enfield's shut out winning match. Though Enfield scored more than five goals against second-place tournament winners, Plymouth, the scoreboard hospitably did not change after 5-0.

In this friendly tournament for boys and girls ages 9-12, once the score difference reaches a high enough level, the scoreboard stops recording any further goals on behalf of the winning team. Everyone knows who is winning, but without updating the scoreboard, the focus is brought more back to the fun of the game and less on a display of numbers that don't count for regular season standings.

McGarry said, "We focus on skill acquisition and healthy sportsmanship and healthy play so it's fun and fundamentals. We're not focusing on the wins. A lot of kids we're seeing getting pushed into the travel programs we're seeing nationwide end up moving away from the sport, which is a shame, because there is so much pressure on the wins."

After listening to players, parents, and coaches, and hearing from all how much fun the hotel pool is, it is clear this tournament is more of a weekend adventure experience than a stiff competition.

Each team played four games from Friday through Sunday and after the final game a Player of the Game was picked from each team to win a prize donated by the 99 Restaurant. Between Enfield, the Peewee champs, Waltham, Massachusetts Squirt tournament victors, and the winners of the many battles throughout the weekend, this tournament undoubtedly creates more than one king of the rink.

If there were a lord of the rink, it would most likely be Waltham Squirt and tournament championship winner, John Fitzgibbon, who was responsible for a hat trick in his final match against Plymouth, to help earn Waltham’s 5-2 win.

Possibly the most humble tournament winner ever, when Fitzgibbon was asked how it felt to win, his one word response was, “good,” while children crowded the hall to pat him on the back, giggling and shouting, “three slam dunks!”

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