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This weekend was the 10th Chelsea Challenge, organized and presented by the New York City Gay Hockey Association, and it was my 9th to play (I wasn’t playing hockey when the tourney started in 2000). It was the largest tournament too with 14 teams across three divisions with around 200 players and guests attending.

For the second year I played with the Hartford Whalers. Last year Hartford won the gold medal in the Recreational B division. This year the organizing committee decided the team should be placed in the Recreational A division. I’m not sure who they saw on our roster that made them think we could be competitive against the NY Lions, the DC Nationals and Les Dragons de Montréal, but they made the move because Rec A needed four teams. Talk about feeling like a sacrificial lamb.

The outcome: We were repeatedly destroyed.

Friday night’s first game against DC ended with a 12-2 loss. Saturday morning the Lions won 9-1. Saturday afternoon Montréal gave us our closest game where we only lost 7-3. Sunday morning in the semi-final (we made it into playoffs simply because there were only four teams in the division) the first place Lions shellacked us again 9-0.

I have never played at the level this required. Last year’s Rec B doesn’t compare and it even felt more difficult than facing the top line at Ronnie’s Ice the few times I’ve been thrown into that during the summer. I think I held up to it pretty well and I even started more confident than I did last year in Rec B. I bounced back and forth during the first two games between defense and center as Captain Gregg was looking for the right places to put people. For the last two I was on defense the whole time.

There’s no doubt I made some bad choices along the way. But I think I made good choices more often than not–even if I couldn’t always execute the choices. I had speed issues sometimes because I’m simply not the speediest person on the ice. Plus, even my best choices were still subject to the skill of the opponents in avoiding what I was trying to do. I did find moments in each game that made personal highlights for me. I think my favorite of all the games was winning a face-off against one of the Lions. There were many face-offs I had against the Lions on Saturday morning that weren’t clean wins for either side, but there was one that I decidedly won to the left of their net and that was a sweet moment.

I had several good defensive moments too where I would get the puck off the incoming players or make a good clearing pass to one of our forwards. I never got discouraged and just kept trying to put my absolute best out there all the time. If nothing else came of the weekend I think I am a slightly better player now than I was on Friday because these games threw things at me so fast. My usual games don’t move this fast at all and if I can take this intensity into those games I should be better in D7 and D8.

I love my teammates too. Even though we knew going into this weekend that we were playing in a division we had no business being in we kept our heads in the game, kept a good attitude on the bench and kept driving forward. I never had the sense that we were giving up. It was good that Captain Gregg set such a good tone for us because I’ve been on too many benches where the constant beatdown by the opponent can turn the bench into an awful place to be.

I hope there’s a Hartford team again next year. I would sign up again in a heartbeat if Gregg called me up for duty. Hopefully for 2011 we’ll be placed in the correct division so we can be competitive instead of just trying to survive.

Meanwhile, some other notable things from the weekend: Getting to see Brian play his first organized hockey games (and coming out with a Silver medal in the Developmental division). Seeing Mark again after a quite a few years (and he came out with the Gold in Developmental). Hanging out with Mike, Adam, Mark, Jacob, Johannes and Jonathan at the banquet Saturday night. Seeing Laurie play with her son Bobby.