More than just dreams played out on ice , the Quebec Peewee

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More than just dreams played out on ice , the Quebec Peewee
little
league
biG read peewee
peewee biG read
biG
More than just dreams played out on ice,
the Quebec Peewee Tournament is
a collision of hockey worlds
BY GARE JOYCE IN QUEBEC CITY, YORKTON, SASK., AND DETROIT
y
PHOTOGRAPHY BY RICHARD WOLOWICZ
30 SPORTSNET
NHL. The program’s success draws players
from miles around Detroit and even attracts
a few from out of state whose parents move
to Michigan to advance their sons’ careers.
Above the music, DJ Busdeker shouted
to be heard: “C’mon boys. This is the greatest opportunity of our lives.”
On the other side, 18 Yorkton Terriers
sweaters were draped on the backs of the
kids who had flown to Quebec with their
parents a few days earlier. The Terriers
were sponsored by Sherring Gold, which
sounds like a mining corporation but is in
fact a jewellery store on Broadway Street,
the main drag in the city of 15,000. The
majority of Terriers came from Yorkton,
Sask.—one came from Foam Lake, an hour’s
drive away, and one from the Ochapowace
reserve down the highway. Above the
music, Alec Zawatsky, the son of the team’s
coach, yells: “C’mon boys. Let’s be positive.”
Big programs like
detroit’s Little Caesars, led
by Joshua Pack, expect to
march deep into the elite
division every year
pHOTO CReDIT TK
DJ AND ALEC WERE BOTH BORN IN 1999.
Both wear No. 14. Both have shaggy hair,
a Bieberesque flow, and not the faintest hint
of peach fuzz. Both are about five feet—that
is, if Alex rolls up on his toes. Both are adolescent type A’s. With their helmets on, peering through the bars of their cages, you’d
have trouble telling them apart. You could
mOVinG FOrWarD
pHOTO CReDIT TK
ou could hear the unbroken
voices of barely teenage boys
through the open doors to
two neighbouring locker
rooms below the stands in
the Colisée in Quebec City.
They told jokes and sang offkey songs. You could hear them until someone in the room took control of the boom
box and blasted Ozzy Osbourne, AC/DC
and other standards carried over from their
fathers’ days. Players in one room were
about to head onto the ice. Players in the
other room emptied into the hallway in their
shorts to warm up for a game an hour off.
It was a Wednesday in February, the second round of the 53rd Tournoi International
de Hockey Pee-Wee de Québec. For 10 days,
Quebec has the world’s highest concentration of 12-year-old boys, with the arrival of
teams from A (Ajax) to Z (Zurich), teams
great and small.
On one side, 16 classic Detroit Red Wings
sweaters were hanging in the stalls. The
Wings, a.k.a. Little Caesars, represented
the youth division of a Mike Ilitch empire
that encompasses pizzas (the eponymous
chain) and sports (MLB’s Detroit Tigers and
the NHL’s Red Wings). Over the years, 32
Little Caesars grads have gone on to the
SPORTSNET 31
biG read peewee
peewee biG read
you can find a team like Little Caesars in
Canada and a team like Yorkton in the States.
No, it was a different two solitudes: the
Major Program and the Local Team. Behind
one door was a team that’s always there,
guaranteed an invitation. Behind the other
was a team that had made it to Quebec, the
stars aligning and a bunch of 12-year-olds
rising above their station.
DJ busDeKer
LITTLE CAESARS | fORWARd
Hometown: dexter, Michigan
Birthday: Sept 25, 1999
favourite player: Tyler Seguin
i
imagine them as friends. DJ and Alec and
their teams represented two worlds of minor
hockey, two congregations of kids separated
by geography, life experiences and seemingly by everything else. Obviously it’s a
long way from Motown to eastern Saskatchewan, but there were even greater distances
between them. The most basic was right
there on the schedule: Little Caesars were
in the elite division, and Yorkton were a
notch below.
There’s only one place where these teams
and these parents could have passed each
other in the halls, if not met on the ice: the
Quebec peewee tournament, a Canadian
sports treasure. Across 10 days, 112 teams
take their best shot, though half the field is
knocked out before the week’s half over.
Every game is the biggest game of a kid’s
life so far, maybe the biggest he’ll ever play.
On its face, the tournament bares a passing resemblance to the Little League World
Series, mostly because the players are the
same age. But Quebec isn’t like South Williamsport, Pa. The LLWS is really two separate competitions, with U.S. teams playing
on one side of the draw for the home team’s
berth in the final, and international teams
on the other side looking to get to the championship game; Quebec offers not one trophy
but four, representing pools of teams
matched as fairly as possible.
It’s not fair to say that it was only the two
worlds of hockey that were meeting in
Quebec. There are many worlds of hockey,
some in lesser orbits—for instance, in the
International C pool, Team New South
Wales drew Veneto of Italy in the first round.
(For those who wagered on NSW plus-10,
congratulations, it’s a push.) These and
other C-poolers came from nations where
there isn’t an established hockey culture.
Teams from Russia, the Czech Republic and
Scandinavia were contenders in the elite
ranks. Their hockey worlds are different than
anything in North America. Still, Little
Ceasars and the Terriers embodied the two
cultures most familiar to those who follow
the game. It wasn’t the U.S. and Canada—
t was minus 25 on a Friday night in
December when the Estevan Bruins’
bus took a left at the casino and
pulled up outside the Gallagher Centre. Twelve-year-olds don’t know
existential dread, but the Bruins must have
felt something like it. They must take joy
in hockey, but none in a trip to Yorkton.
Estevan was in second place in the Southern
Saskatchewan peewee league, which
stretches from Yorkton, near the Manitoba
border to Swift Current, a five-hour drive
west. But the Terriers were undefeated,
untied and unchallenged. Said Sean Milligan,
coach of Prairie Storm, a AA team in the
Regina league: “They’re an extremely wellcoached and talented bunch of kids who all
love hockey and who all get along.”
When the teams warmed up, you probably wouldn’t have been able to make the
home team as peewee titans. They were
If our
persona
no bigger than Estevan. They moved the
puck around more sharply, but not dramatically so. And they were younger, in fact
the youngest team in the league, with seven
players born in 2000 and two in 2001.
When the puck was dropped, however,
the expectation of a tense battle went out
the window. Five minutes, 10 minutes, 15
minutes passed and Estevan still didn’t
register a shot on 10-year-old Nolan Maier.
The visitors didn’t even keep possession in
the home team’s end of the ice. It was 5–0
before Maier saw rubber, a turnover leading
to a breakaway and a goal.
The Terriers ran out to a double-digit win
against a team that had beaten every other
in the AA league. In doing so, Yorkton put
on a display that would have delighted
anyone who finds beauty in the game well
played. The lines were unrelenting buzz-saw
units moving in concert. Each forward
looked like an interchangeable part. In fact,
the team featured two sets of twins: Mack
and Carson Welke had surnames but not
their initials on their sweaters, furthering
any confusion; and for Keenan and Kaedan
Taphorn, initials would have been no help.
Jake Skudra, a tall-for-his-age 12-year-old
defenceman, levelled an Estevan winger
with a clean, open-ice hit. Alec, on the
bench, offered up a
“Yeah,
T:7.875
in Jake, yeah.” Alec
was sitting directly
in front
S:7.375
in of his dad—he
ser vice was
l , w e ’d
pHOTO CReDIT TK
YORKTON TERRIERS | fORWARd
TM, ®: Used by Amex Bank of Canada under license from American Express.
32 SPORTSNET
any more
ur
be doing yo
u n dr
a
l
We’ll help sort out whatever
need s sorti ng out.
However long that may take.
nti al
am eri can exp res s.c a/p ote
alec ZaWaTsKy
Hometown: Yorkton, Saskatchewan
Birthday: dec 15, 1999
favourite player: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
observed proper hockey etiquette: no
acknowledgement of the fact that it’s his
father in charge, no over-the-shoulder looks.
He’d rather get speared than mouth the
word “Dad” on the bench. Ed Zawatsky
observed the etiquette, too: no special attention paid to Alec, no double-shifting, no
extra ice time. When it was four-on-four or
the penalty kill, Alec’s linemates Derrick
Budz and Carson Miller saw the ice and
Alec had to wait.
When the Terriers scored, they celebrated
modestly. “You have to show respect,” Alec
said. They seemed more excited in the postgame—it was a Friday night, and players
and their parents went upstairs to a small
banquet room where pizzas and pop
awaited the players and cases of beer the
parents. All attended, and talked about what
the Quebec tournament meant to them.
The younger generation buzzed. “Everything we’re doing is working towards
Quebec,” Alec said. “It’s really the same
team we’ve had for four years and we’ve
gone on all kinds of road trips. We all know
each other so well—there are cousins and
neighbours on the team. We’ve played lots
of games and tournaments but this is the
biggest one of all.”
His father had a more complicated perspective. “Quebec will be a step up, but
these kids deserve the chance,” he says.
y
SLUG SUBSLUG
“We didn’t know if we were going to get
accepted when we applied. [The organizers]
haven’t told a lot of teams yet, but they gave
us a heads-up because they know we’re
coming a long way and it’s a big commitment for us.”
Hockey had taken Ed Zawatsky places.
He played at Colorado College and professionally in Germany, where he met his wife,
Christine, and where Alec and his older
brother were born. He was more excited
for Alec and his teammates, but he had a
stake in it, too. He’d coached the communityowned Terriers in the Saskatchewan Junior
Hockey League to a national Jr. A final but
was later let go in a bit of board-level politics. People in Yorkton knew he could coach,
but it would be nice to remind them. Like
others in the Yorkton party, Quebec was
going to cost him a few thousand bucks,
and he had to scramble to get time off from
his job with the department of corrections.
But it was going to be worth it. Once in a
lifetime stuff.
i
t was L.A. vs. Detroit at Joe Louis
Arena on a Sunday afternoon in
December. Not the Kings and Red
Wings; that was the night before.
No, it was the L.A. Selects and Little
Caesars. The Little Caesars get to skate in
the JLA a few times a year, and an exhibition with the Selects ranked as a special
occasion. It wasn’t just that the Selects had
flown in from the coast; the Selects had a
heavyweight rep for producing national
champions.
every game is
the biggest
game of a kid’s
life so far,
maybe the
biggest he’ll
ever play
Great venue but an anti-climactic contest:
the top end of Detroit’s roster, forwards
Andrew Andary, Scooter Brickey and Logan
Cockerill, outstripped anyone L.A. had to
offer. Like the Yorkton Terriers, the Little
Caesars are a family outfit. Andary, the GM’s
son, possesses power and speed enough
to be a handful for a good bantam defenceman. Brickey, the coach’s son, is a heady
two-way setup man. Cockerill, the strength
and conditioning coach’s son, wears the
Red Wings’ No. 19, and it’s hard to imagine
that Steve Yzerman was a better skater at
12—opponents can be in top gear and Cockerill passes them on a glide. With the trio
owning every shift, Little Caesars led the
whole way and won 3–1.
Donnie Busdeker watched from his seat.
“He’s a Busdeker,” he says of his son DJ,
who worked Cockerill’s wing, doing the
grunt work in the corners, the Busdeker lot
in life. DJ’s grandfather was the original
hockey Busdeker, a minor-league tough guy
in Lima, Ohio. Donnie was good enough to
get drafted for major junior and have a stint
in college, but a bad knee shut down his
career. “DJ is like me—has to work for
everything, anything less than total effort
and he’s not going to be around,” Donnie
says. “A Busdeker.”
biG leaGue
DJ might rate as the
Dreams
quintessential Busdeker.
A dozen kids at
You wouldn’t have blamed
Quebec each
DJ if he resented what
year will go on
to see NHL ice.
seemed like star treatment
But, at 13, they
for the front liners—like Al
live and die for
Cockerill coming into the
this tournament
room before the game to
stretch Logan’s hips and
groin muscles on the trainer’s table. Or if it
bugged DJ that when he tried to pump up
his teammates before the game, Cockerill
and others tuned him out with their iPods.
But there were nothing but affirmations
from DJ after the win over L.A. “It’s 45 minutes in the car from Dexter to the arena for
every game and practice,” DJ says. “My
father can’t get away all the time—he
coaches my little brother in another program
[Detroit Honda]. My father takes turns with
another father, splitting the driving. I have
to do my homework right after school ’cause
I don’t get home until 11 after games and
practices. When I get back I have an egg
salad sandwich and go right to sleep.”
DJ went to Donnie two years ago and
asked if he could try out for Little Caesars.
The start of every season brings change in
the Little Caesars’ roster: The GM’s and
coaches’ sons are three of only five peewees
in their fourth year in the program. Tryouts
were an open door but it was going to be a
step up and a step out for the Busdekers: It
was going to be an investment of time and
money, both hard to come by with four kids.
The dues for Little Caesars weren’t a hard
squeeze by some Canadian standards: $350
a month. The asterisk attached was the price
of travel. “We’ll get help from Mr. Ilitch with
the trip to Quebec, but the team goes to
tournaments and exhibitions. We have to
cover that,” Donnie said. “I’m a manager at
Frito-Lay but my wife is a stay-at-home mom
who looks after a neighbour’s six-month-old
baby. We’re not a wealthy family. Other
families can get personal trainers or send
their sons to hockey camps in the summer.
We don’t. It’s tough, but I’d do anything for
my son, and this can be DJ’s ticket to a scholarship or maybe major junior.”
Worlds collided at the game: Loaded
Escalades roll down from Bloomfield Hills
and other tony suburban enclaves and park
outside the arena next to Donnie Busdeker’s
three-year-old Uplander. Some parents and
their kids will fly up to Quebec and get
suites at the Château Frontenac. Donnie
Busdeker will check in there but will share
a room with two other fathers to cut costs.
His son isn’t the only Busdeker.
i
t was Wednesday afternoon, 3 p.m.
The Quebec tournament was seven
days in. There had been good times
for the Yorkton Terriers on the ice.
They won a nail-biter over Drummondville in the first round on Sunday, a
shootout that stretched into the fifth round,
Alex Geddes making a save and being
mobbed by his teammates. The next day,
the Terriers played an exhibition to stay
sharp and won another shootout, beating
the L.A. Jr. Kings, seeded in the elite division. There had been good times off the
ice: The team turned the fourth floor at the
Best Western into a block party, with doors
of every room open, parents having beers
and the boys and some siblings sprinting
through the halls. The Terriers had traded
team pins amongst themselves and with
players from foreign countries. Like all
other teams at the tournament, the Terriers were given their own hockey cards by
the organizers.
In a material sense, the pins and the
cards were going to be all the Terriers
would come away with from their trip to
Quebec. Their tournament was over shortly
before 3 p.m. Wednesday, with the
Romande Lynx from Switzerland taking a
3–0 lead in the second period of Yorkton’s
second-round game. In the pre-game hand-
peewee biG read
la’s Girl Wonder
cayla barnes
LA SELECTS | dEfENCE
fame: a blueliner
with the elite-division winning LA
Selects, Cayla
Barnes of Corona,
Calif. When she
first took an interest in hockey, her
favourite player
was Scott
Every Quebec
Niedermayer—her
peewee tourney
game and skating
features 12-yearat peewee look an
olds who’ll go on
awful lot like that
to adult hockey
of the captain of
stardom. In a bad
Canada’s goldyear at least a
dozen will wind up medal 2010
Olympic team.
in the NHL, in a
“She’s easily one
great year, twice
that. The most fas- of the best 50 ’99
birthdays [in this
cinating player to
tournament],” a
watch in Quebec
rival coach said.
this year is a long
Bleed: 8.125
in being
“That’s
shot for the NHL
conservative.”
but a dead lockTrim:
for 7.875
—GJ
in
Live: 7.375 in
FIXED
REPLACED
FOUND
SORTED
TM, ®: Used by Amex Bank of Canada under license from American Express.
34 SPORTSNET
shake, their opponents had given the Terriers chocolates wrapped to look like Swiss
Army knives. That was all they gave them.
The Terriers had won only a handful of
shifts all game; they generated one scoring
chance. Their tournament was over before
the game was. There was still a period to
play when they filed into the dressing room
and the Zamboni circled the ice.
Looking at the kids from Yorkton, it was
hard to imagine that smiles ever creased
their faces, that they had ever won a game.
Ed Zawatsky stood in the middle of the
silent room. “I’m still gonna love you, all of
you after this game,” he said. “This game
won’t change that. I’ll still see you up at
the lake and we’ll have fun. I’m still gonna
love you but you have a decision to make.”
He held up a whiteboard. He had written
three lines on it before the game.
HARD WORK
STICK TO THE PLAN
BELIEVE
He pointed to the board. “We can do
this,” he said and paused.
Then he crossed out the words. “Or we
can do this,” he said.
None of the players let their heads dip
for fear that the coach might think he was
being ignored. They looked at him vacantly
with reddening eyes.
continued on p. 86
You bou ght it.
It bro ke. Don ’t wor ry.
it ou t.
We ’ll he lp yo u so rt
nti al
am eri can exp res s.c a/p ote
biG read peewee
continued FRoM p. 35
“I’m still gonna love you no matter what
decision you make,” Ed Zawatsky said. He
then ran through instructions that, if heard,
wouldn’t be remembered minutes later.
In the hallway, with his assistant and
trainer, Zawatsky was almost as speechless
as his players. “They froze,” he said. “I don’t
know why.”
The third period was a blur, a quarterhour nightmare. Some slammed sticks. Some
mouthed epithets beyond their years out of
coaches’ earshot. What you’d expect to go
with 15 minutes of damming up tear ducts.
Jake Kustra scored a goal on a fluke, a
dump-in that went through the Lynx goalie,
but it only made the final score, 4–1, look
more respectable.
After the game, Ed Zawatsky walked into
the dressing room and shut the door behind
him. About half of the Terriers looked
stunned and the others wept, Alec Zawatsky
hardest of all. The coach took a lap of the
room and shook each player’s hand and,
again, his players kept their heads up.
That night, Alec climbed into his hotel
bed and messaged a friend on Facebook.
“I’m upset but I’ll get through it. It just feels
like I wasted my time embarrassing myself
and then playing the game, even though
people say I played good. This was one of
my dreams when I was little and I only got
to play two tournament games.”
He sent out messages until he was able
to get to sleep. He hit send for the last time
at 2:28 a.m.
a
n hour after the Terriers had
cleared out of their dressing
room, the Little Caesars were
on the ice and in a jam. They
had been less than their best
with a 3–2 win over Hamilton in the first
round and then drawn a bigger and more
skilled Czech team in the second. Though
Andray and Cockerill were pouring across
the blueline with speed, the Czechs scored
first and carried a 1–0 lead deep into the
first period. The Czech netminder was shutting down the Americans at point blank
range and looked more of a contortionist
than a gymnast—think of Dominik Hašek in
Grade 7. And then came a stretch that DJ
Busdeker will always remember. He tied the
game in the last minute of the first period,
86 SPORTSNET
pouncing on a loose puck at the edge of the
crease. He set up the winner in the second
and an insurance goal in a 3–1 win. He
hadn’t been one of those Little Caesars who
made tournament all-star teams and MVPs,
but he was his team’s best player of the day.
And yet the post-game was far more hotblooded than the game.
The players had heard out coach Scott
Brickey’s comments—speech would be too
strong a word—and started to change into
their street clothes. The coach stood outside
the dressing room with his assistant, Jason
Gray, and strength and conditioning coach,
Al Cockerill. Brickey was as white as freshly
flooded ice—he had been hit with food
poisoning on his team’s trip to the slopes
the day before.
They were standing there when the
father of one of the Little Caesars strode up
to them with eyes wide and nostrils
flaring.“You jumped my kid,” said the
father, who looked like he had played
hockey or maybe football. “He didn’t play
a shift in the last six minutes of the second
period. He’s absolutely crushed. He’s
upstairs and he’s absolutely crushed. We
come all this way to Quebec, and for this?!”
Brickey didn’t raise his voice. He might
not have been able to. His attempts with
the father didn’t get beyond a few mumbled
words. The father was intent on pushing
the limits and pumped the volume. “You
know, don’t you?” he said to Jason Gray.
“Don’t throw me under the bus,” Gray
said.
The father moved forward to Gray, the
ritual dance steps before a street fight.
Logan Cockerill and Cade Robinson, the
last ones out of the dressing room, were
carrying their hockey bags when they
stopped and watched the scene unfold.
“Go upstairs,” Logan’s father, Al, said.
The coaches, parents and players make
jokes about Al Cockerill, about the three- or
four-hour workouts in the weight room. He
must weigh a bare minimum of 250 lb. Al
wrapped his hands around the angry
father’s face, like a mafia don ready to give
the kiss of death, his huge mitts in a vicelike grip, but the father spewed profanities
though forcibly gritted teeth.
Donnie Busdeker was with DJ upstairs
on the Colisée’s concourse when the scene
was playing out downstairs. The star of the
game was gone to a team meal by the time
Donnie heard from a bystander that arena
security was looking for the irate father.
Donnie dropped his head and shook it. That
resentment of DJ’s ice time wasn’t going
away any time soon.
The elder Busdeker had been around
hockey enough to know the spot on the
roster that opened up for DJ was once a
disaffected kid’s, one who no longer felt
part of the team. And that there would
have been hurt feelings, another kid
jumped and crushed, maybe words and
another argument with a coach. The father
knew that word of the scene at the Colisée
was going to get back to DJ. Maybe it
already had.
The Quebec tournament was, DJ said,
“the greatest opportunity of our lives.” By
the time the Busdekers started the drive
home, DJ would have a bunch of pins, some
souvenirs and no illusions about the game
or his team.
t
he puck was sitting at centre ice
and 10,000 in the stands clapped
in anticipation. DJ Busdeker was
standing on the blueline, nothing
but ice between him and goaltender Tyler Haywood, and nothing but Haywood between the Little Caesars and the
semifinal of the elite division.
It was down to the last strokes. It had
looked like the Little Caesars were going
to run Haywood’s New York Jr. Rangers out
of the rink early on, but the spectacular
goalie had kept the game scoreless through
regulation and a five-minute overtime.
In the shootout, Andary had dented the
crossbar with the Caesars’ first attempt,
and Robinson had slipped it past Haywood
with a clean deke. Meanwhile, the Rangers
made one out of three. That left the puck
and the tournament on DJ’s stick.
Busdeker skated in boldly and looked
good right up to the edge of the crease, but
Haywood read him and beat him to the post.
Head down, DJ skated to the bench. He
wouldn’t raise it until he made it to the
dressing room.
The Rangers made their next two
attempts, while the Little Caesars had a
make and then a miss that ended their tournament. DJ alone among Detroit’s shooters
had a chance to get his team through to the
semis. Little Caesars skated out for the
handshakes. DJ was last in the line, bent
at the waist, stick resting atop his shinpads.
Ed Zawatsky was sitting with a bunch
of Yorkton fathers high up in the stands.
“It’s not always the best team,” he said.
Alec had missed a lot of the action. Five
French girls dressed very maturely for
12-year-olds had taken seats a row in front
of the Terriers. The girls told Alec he looked
like Justin Bieber. Language was no impediment to flirting.
“Let’s go, Alec,” Ed said.
One of the Yorkton fathers went off to
fetch the van, and Ed waited with Alec and
other kids by the Colisée’s back gate. A few
feet away, Donnie Busdeker was waiting
for DJ. Before Yorkton’s vans pulled around,
DJ marched up the stairs, sobbing. He
dropped his bag and fell into his dad’s arms.
The girls across the foyer were watching
the Yorkton boys leave. Big Program, Local
Team: they couldn’t tell them apart.
ipad: aN Nhl-siZed gallery of a peeWee toUrNey