What happens when you cross a bike race with a mud bog?
Queens Cross, that’s what.
Saturday’s driving rainstorm may have deterred all but the hardiest spectators, but dozens of riders from beginners to elite men and women relished the chance to battle each other and the elements at New Westminster’s Queen’s Park in the fifth race of the eight-race Vancouver Cyclocross Coalition’s series.
Cyclocross is an off-road version of a road cycling criterium race in which riders lap a number of circuits on a two or three kilometre course comprised of dirt trails, grassy meadows, over barriers and across creeks or gullies. It evolved in Belgium and Northern France in the early 1900s as a way for road cyclists to stay fit during the fall and winter off-season. Sometimes getting to the warmth and shelter of the nearest café or brasserie meant cutting across farmer’s fields and through forests; cyclocross replicates that experience.
Saturday’s cold torrential downpour was worthy of the worst weather of the Ardennes and turned most of the course at the west end of Queen’s Park into a track of thick, viscous muck. At the end of each event, the line at the hose station was 20-30 muddy cyclists deep. Even through their exhaustion, many managed a smile. After all, there’s often a rainbow at the end of a rainstorm.
This fall, a New Westminster tradition barely anyone knows about will celebrate its 25th anniversary.
It’s one I had a hand in starting back in 1991. That’s when I rounded up a few buddies in the local media business to rekindle our childhood passion for road hockey.
We gathered on the old tennis courts in Queen’s Park, put down some spare boots and jackets for goalposts and had at it. Just like when we were kids. Because as much as ice hockey is our national obsession, the street game is our national pastime.
Pretty much every kid who grew up in Canada has played road hockey. They know the sting of the evil orange ball on a cold day. They understand the unique skill of shooting that ball with a plastic “Superblade” worn down by the hardtop to the thickness of a toothpick. They’ve scowled at insensitive drivers with the temerity to drive through their game to get home. They’ve delayed dinner just to play a little longer. They’ve played out the thrill of winning a Stanley Cup between the curbs.
I don’t edit emails for content as often as I should. At least I didn’t when I contacted RCYSC (Royal City Youth Soccer Club) looking to help out with my son’s soccer team. When I offered to volunteer as a coach, I meant to write that I could volunteer as an assistant coach. Needless to say, I was surprised when the coordinator emailed me back with my very own team roster. I have never so much as coached an ant farm, never mind a gaggle of six-year-old-boys with varying attention spans. I knew this would be an adventure.
RCYSC as an organization makes a good first impression. There are a lot of solid people volunteering in the background to make things run smoothly. About the only thing they don’t provide is coaches, so that’s were lucky dads (and moms) like me come in. The club offered a couple of coaching clinics, free of charge, with instructors provided by BC Soccer. I spent a half a Saturday in a classroom, and the other half on the field doing drills, sprints and learning technique.
The first thing they teach you is to keep things fun and to keep the kids interested. I think I’ve done pretty well on both accounts. You quickly learn that over-coaching is a mistakes; explain something for too long and you’ll soon have eight kids digging for worms or talking Pokémon. Basically the kids are there to get their beans out and it’s my job as coach to channel that energy into what should resemble some soccer skills. At first I had no idea how my team would respond to Coach Matt. My Italian-Hungarian background has blessed, or cursed me, with a rather booming voice; getting their attention without yelling was no problem. I have yet to cave and resort to using a whistle.
How did our team do? While no records are kept in terms of wins, losses, and goals scored, the kids make sure you don’t forget. We did well, and the boys all seemed to enjoy themselves.
The best part of the whole experience was watching kids improve their skills and build their confidence. It’s easy to coach the natural athlete who excels no matter what the sport, but much more rewarding with the one who isn’t so sure of himself.
Update:This blog entry has been a long time in the making. I have since signed up for another year of coaching. The first thing I noticed with my new team is:
They are much more skilled than they were a year ago.
They also have a lot more sass than they did a year ago.
I guess you can’t have one without the other. It should be another good year.
This is a guest post by Jason Kurylo. While Jason currently lives in Burnaby (shhhhh!) his New Westminster roots run deep. Jason co-hosts a hockey podcast which you can find on his website Pucked In The Head.
Don’t be surprised if you catch yourself saying “Hey, wasn’t that… you know, that guy?” over the next few days. You probably have seen that guy on TV, even if you’ve just grazed past TSN on a Sunday afternoon. That guy, in fact, just might have Olympic gold in his back pocket.
Martin is one of the world’s most recognizable faces of men’s curling. Since winning back-to-back World Junior Curling Championships in 1998 and 1999, the Edmonton product has been a fixture on the Canadian and international curling circuits. His teams have represented Canada at two Olympic games, first taking silver in Salt Lake City in 2002 and then gold at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Martin has also been a part of 14 Grand Slam titles on the World Curling Tour – in fact, he was the first skip to complete a career Grand Slam by winning each of the tour’s four major championships by the end of the 2004-05 season. He has gone on to win the National, the Canadian Open and the Players’ Championship an additional three times since that feat.
Also impressive has been his dominance at the Westcoast Classic. Since its inception in 2002, Martin’s rinks have neatly taken home half of the first place purses – for this, the twelfth run of the WCC, he looks for his sixth title. He’ll have to wade through 23 other teams, including 2006 Olympic silver medalist Marku Uusipaavalniemi of Finland. Also on the roster are teams from BC, across Canada, the United States, Russia, Japan and Chinese Taipei. New Westminster rinks include those skipped by 2000 World Champions Bryan Miki and Brent Pierce (who each now skip their own foursomes) and former BC Junior Men’s Champs Andrew Bilesky and Jay Wakefield (@curlerjayw on Twitter, but watch out – he drops the four-letter words in just about every tweet). Up for grabs is a cash purse of $64,000.
Martin and Uusipaavalniemi will play a skins game on Wednesday, October 6 at 7:30 pm. The tournament itself begins on Friday, October 8, with draws beginning at 11 am and 2:15, 6 and 9 pm. There are multiple draws on Saturday and Sunday, with the quarter-finals, semifinals and finals to go on Thanksgiving Monday. Day passes to watch the tournament are $10, or get a tournament pass for all four days of play for $30.
A few years ago, Salmonbellies President and General Manager Dan Richardson received an email requesting a t-shirt for a loved one stationed in Khandahar. From there, he put together a plan to send some additional Salmonbellies merchandise and some lacrosse equipment to some soldiers overseas. The success and goodwill from Operation: Salmonbellie got him thinking about how the team could expand what they were doing.
“I thought we could do a much better job of supporting our Canadian Military,” explained Richardson. “I got the idea for Seats for Soldiers from Major League Baseball organizations that plan similar events.”
Through connections to the Royal Westminster Regiment, Richardson’s plan was put into action and the first of what has become an annual event took place last summer.
“We really embraced the idea of working with the Royal Westminster Regiment and showed that a local sports team can really produce a first class event in name of the Canadian Forces,” said Board Member David MacGrotty explaining the success of the event. “The ‘Bellies are very fortunate to have the support of all our sponsors, the WLA, the City of New Westminster, all branches of the Canadian Forces and, most of all, the fans who came out to show their support in a big way.”
Like last year, the event will feature military displays, bands and bagpipers throughout the night. All Armed Forces, Legion Members, Veterans, Cadets and their families will get into the game free and partial proceeds from the night will be donated to The Military Family Resource Centre, which offers support for families of soldiers who are serving overseas. The players will be wearing camouflage jerseys specially designed for the event and, in the off season, goaltender Matt Roik’s mask was painted as a permanent tribute to soldiers past and present. If you’re planning to attend, please wear red to show your support for the Salmonbellies and for Canadian Troops.
The Seats for Soldiers event will take place TONIGHT (June 3rd) at Queen’s Park Arena when the Salmonbellies play host to the Victoria Shamrocks. In addition to all the military related special events, lacrosse fans will also get to see the top two teams in the WLA play for first place. Game time is at 7:45 and the first 500 fans will get RBC Thundersticks at the door.
A shipment of lacrosse sticks, warm-up jerseys, balls and assorted New Westminster Salmonbellies paraphernalia arrived on the base last month. They got to open it Christmas Eve.
“They were really excited,” said Tracy Brown, a Burnaby resident who got it all started.
“It was the hockey players that got their hands on it first. Some of them had never tried it so they all had the T-shirts on and went out to the rink right away and started playing with it.”
Brown has a friend whose brother, Brent Vanover, is a rabid Salmonbellies fan stationed in Afghanistan. She hooked him up with Salmonbellies president Dan Richardson, who organized the shipment that took about two months to get there, having to jump several bureaucratic hoops and getting sent to the U.S. postal depot instead of Canada’s.