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A record turnout of roadsters eyes the pile of sticks at center court, prior to dividing them up into four teams, to play in a mini knockout tourney.

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Week 9
Pondering the pile

Record turnout splits squads

by Jay Suburb

For the first time in road hockey history, there was no game Sunday morning. There were four.

When a record turnout left a throng of roadsters idle on the sidelines, and a pile of sticks at center court almost as high as the Kid, the squads were split into four teams to play each other in a mini knockout tournament

And while the format left two teams to play without a spare, the roadsters were excited by the chance to maximize their playing time.

"I think it was just a little overwhelming," says Lak Attack of the horde of players crowded on the court during the pre-game warm-up. "When you saw all those guys, you knew it wasn't going to work. It was a good idea to split it up, otherwise nobody would end up getting a workout."

"With all the people we had here, I think it would have been tough to keep everyone happy," says notorious gameshow host gone bad, Wink. "You would have got maybe only one shift a period."

"You come to play on Sunday morning," says the Colonel, a longtime critic of crowded games that leave more players waiting on the sidelines than mixing it up on the court. "It was the right move today because we all got to play, and that's what we come out for."

"It was nice to be able to split all the guys into two decent teams," says Paul One, who's arrival at the courts Sunday with two relatives in tow, Bullwinkle and Rocky, helped fuel the unexpected population explosion. "You're usually sort of in the land of in-between, where you don't have enough guys for two games, but you've got too many guys to play a decent game with two teams."

Split-squad games have been discussed in the past, especially around Stanley Stick time, when attendance at the road hockey courts seems to peak. But Sunday was the first time there were enough players, goalies and equipment to actually test the format.

Instead of dividing the sticks at center court into two piles, they were split four ways, with a goalie, Ottoman, Pig Farming Goalie, Lobsterboy or Gump, assigned to each of the teams. The games would be played to ten, with the two winners from the first round then facing off for the day's championship, while the losers battled for third place.

"I thought this way was much more exciting," says Lobsterboy, who's team lost both their games in his first start at the courts in six weeks. "You've got a lot faster action, less shifting; it was a lot more intense."

"I think you're more into the game," says Paul One. "You know exactly what's going on in the game because you're on the court for every shift. You're part of everything, whether it's good or bad."

"It was like old time road hockey," says Wink, a veteran of the league's lean years, when most games were played without spares. "I was waiting for Philderama to come out of the corner and whack me in the head just like the good old days."

"It made for a different kind of day," says Billy Idol. "It changed the routine up a bit."

If the mini-tournament format had a flaw, it was the lack of motivation for the teams playing in the day's third-place game. After each side suffered tough losses in their openers, they seemed to be going through the motions for their showdown with each other.
"Everybody remembers the gold medal game, but nobody cares about the bronze," said Wink, after his team was trounced in the consolation final.
"In the first game, the guys really had their hearts in it," said Lobsterboy. "But in the second game, we fell back early and it was written on the wall that we were going to lose."
"It's a mental letdown," said the Colonel. "You feel like if you lose that first game and then you're playing in the consolation game, nobody really cares about that game."
But for the consolation winners, pride was at stake.
"We actually had a lot of confidence going into that second game," said Paul One. "We wanted to win. We didn't want to be the day's biggest losers."
"I think we showed a lot of heart in that second game," said Billy Idol. "We did quite well. We tried to rotate the backcheck and we were able to score a lot of goals quite quickly."
"We actually kinda played better as a team in the second game because we got used to each other," said Lak Attack.

Sunday's big winner was Pig Farming Goalie, who's side won both their games, including an overtime squeaker in the opener.
"Team play pretty good today," said the agrarian goaltender. "I think we utilize out strengths, got good passing and good shooting."

Besides the surplus of players, the key to making the split squad tournament work was the return to action of two veteran goaltenders, Lobsterboy and Gump. Each struggled at times as their teams lost their opening-round games.
"It's hard getting back into the groove," said Lobsterboy, who hadn't played in six weeks. "There's pressure because I've only won once this season."
But his teammates were less critical, especially in the second game, when they were forced to play without a spare.

"Lobsterboy was acrobatic as ever," said the Colonel. "He made a lot of good saves."

A heavy fog that descended over the courts just before game time left the concrete courts as slick as ice and a challenge for the quicker players.
"It's tough when you're slipping and sliding, and you're not able to make the moves" said Lak Attack, who took a number of tumbles during the course of the day.
"The conditions were really tough," said the Colonel. "You get some guys out here who have a fair amount of talent and they're brought back to earth because they can't use their feet or their agility quite as much."