What to expect from your first away tourney

Illustration by Kagan McLeod

Having accompanied kids aged seven to 15 on more than two dozen away hockey tournaments, I have the wisdom and the hangover required to provide future generations of parents with the five guidelines that govern such trips:

It’s actually all about the adults

Officially, we endure the burden of the out-of-town tournament to provide our children with memories to last a lifetime. Unofficially, every grown-up’s luggage is 40 percent liquor by weight, and somewhere between three and five parents will end the first night of the trip by throwing up into a sink.

The hockey tournament is a contained ecosystem—it’s like Vegas, except it’s cold and you’re in Pembroke, Ont. And some things should definitely stay in Pembroke. If you don’t get what I mean, then you’ve never bumped into a buttoned-down hockey mom a few days after a tournament and had to think to yourself: I shall now pretend I didn’t watch you perform a drunken lap dance to the sounds of Depeche Mode.

Steel yourself to think less of humanity

Once, I had to intervene to prevent a fist fight between two moms. I also heard a full-grown man loudly refer to one of our 11-year-olds as a “f–king f–khead.” And I watched as a grandfather was tossed out of a rink for pounding on the glass and verbally abusing the officials. Oh, I forgot to mention: All three of these things happened during the same tournament. In fact, they happened during the same game. Minor hockey: bringing out the asshat in all of us for more than a century!

Prepare yourself for the power-mad hotel clerk

These people are like security guards but with even more attitude and polyester. The urge to exercise their limited authority typically manifests in the Sweeping Threat. A few years back, a tightly wound fellow in his early 20s, upon witnessing the horror of young children moving through a hallway at a light jog, wagged a finger in my face and shouted: “If they don’t stop running right now, I’m going to get you suspended from the tournament.”

I paused for a moment. “Wait, so the legend is true?” I began. “I’d heard tell of the One True Travelodge Clerk. Indeed, the prophesy of his coming has been foretold, of how he would wield his limitless power without mercy. Please do not smite us, for we seek only to serve you!” (To this day, I regret not kneeling theatrically at this point.)

Do not go to the back of the bus. Yes, that is where the toilet is.

But on the other hand: THAT IS WHERE THE TOILET IS. This past weekend, we took a team of 15-year-old boys on a bus trip to Philadelphia from Ottawa for a tournament—because nothing builds chemistry quite like 17 hours inside a metal stink rectangle. Kids at the back, adults in the front, and within about 40 minutes, conditions on the bus were roughly equivalent to those in Snowpiercer. I’m not saying the boys created a huge mess of discarded wrappers and food detritus, but just a few more hours on the road and we would have had bus raccoons.

Aside from some random hooting and an impromptu slam poetry competition—Matt took the brunt for having a name that rhymes with a past-tense synonym for defecating—our teenagers were pretty mellow. This prompted one of our drivers to say he prefers driving little kids around. “When you’re young, everything is exciting,” he said. “Even being on a bus is exciting.” Sure, but do you know how young children express their excitement? By voicing their every thought as though they were delivering the “Khaaaaan!” line in Star Trek II. I LOVE THIS BUS! HOCKEY IS FUN! JACK FARTED AND THE FART GOT INTO LIAM’S MOUTH AND NOW LIAM’S MOUTH TASTES LIKE FARTS!

The outcome doesn’t really matter. You want your team to win, obviously

But whereas playoff losses can linger, the sting of the tourney defeat is easily salved. After all, what’s there for kids to be bummed about? Worst-case scenario: They missed school, stayed up late, ate terrible food, hung out with friends and transformed a perfectly good bus into a dumpster on wheels. They’re all winners.

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