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State Wars - Through the Eyes of a Super Fan

February 05, 2020

written by Teresa Kiyawasew

 

In any sport, being chosen to represent your Province on an international stage is a pretty big deal. The Alberta Minor Roller Hockey Association (AMRHA) has had great success in sending groups of teams to represent Alberta every year, since 2014. Each team is represented by a birth year and a skill level (A, AA, AAA). In the spring of every year, AMRHA hosts a tryout process for inline hockey players ages 9 to 18. The selection process is completed at a professional level which includes evaluators who are future coaches, former players and board members of AMRHA. This year AMRHA extended their tryouts over two days and two locations (formerly completed over one day) to allow players from both northern and southern Alberta a chance to attend the tryouts.

The whole experience begins with tryouts and evaluations,. The tryouts run over a weekend; giving players a chance to gel as a group before they are evaluated as individuals. On the final day of tryouts, AMRHA will list all selected players (by jersey colour and number) and post it on a wall for players to view. Immediately after the list goes up, players and parents are provided with a package that details what the next steps are for the tournament. A team manager is chosen just as swiftly and the coach is introduced. In the following few weeks players are choosing their gear sizes, ordering extra apparel, booking flights, booking hotel rooms and paying their deposits. The team manager is diligently working behind the scenes to organize team events, receive apparel, connect the parents and the many other responsibilities that we all know that managers do.

Now imagine, while AMRHA is effectively organizing a province full of highly talented inline hockey players and preparing them for an experience of a lifetime, State Wars is doing the same at an even larger scale. The responsibility of hosting 297 teams from all over the world (yes, ,you read that right, the WORLD), comes with super-organized staff members, a service-friendly venue and a schedule that spans the width of a wall connecting two rinks. With 867 games played over 14 days on 3 different surfaces, State Wars needs to ensure that everything runs as smoothly as possible. Much like the fast-paced nature of the sport itself, the tournament is organized with little room for error. Each game consists of 2 x 12-minute stop-time periods with a 3-minute warm-up and a 1-minute intermission. 1 time-out per team is permitted and lasts approximately 30-seconds in length. The only exception to these rules is for the PAMA PRO INVITATIONAL. 

What is the PAMA PRO INVITATIONAL? It is where most of the 9 – 18-year-olds strive to be one day. With a $25,000 purse and bragging rights of being the best team in the world, it is the tournament’s main attraction. Their periods are longer, their breaks are longer, and the speed of the game is unbelievable! The championship final this year brought a crowd of people where standing room was the only option.

Preparation

After the team has been chosen to represent the Province of Alberta the coach and manager work together to schedule a date or dates for pre-tournament training camps. The importance of a training camp is not just about the players learning the coach’s systems; it is also the first opportunity for the team to bond. The players are selected from towns and cities scattered throughout the Province, which usually means that most of them do not know each other. In order for the players to gel on the floor during an intense, high-level game, they need to be able to gel off the floor. This is a time for the players to start a group chat to get to know each other, talk strategies amongst each other and plan their get togethers in between games during the tournament. It is tough to compete against teams consisting of players that have been playing together for years. Any pre-tournament time Alberta’s teams can have together strengthens their competition.

 

The Awards

This year, Canada entered several teams from three Associations: Team Alberta; Team Ontario; and a Team Manitoba/Saskatchewan mix. AMRHA entered 6 of those teams representing Team Alberta. AMRHA’s teams brought home three medals, had two, 4th place finalists and one, 5th place finalist. If you were present at State Wars you will agree that the competition at the tournament was fierce! The level of skill difference throughout one division was minimal. It is not an exaggeration to say that any one of the teams could have walked away as champions within their division.

When it comes to presenting awards, State Wars makes certain that players are awarded for their achievements with a light show, music, personalized announcements and plenty of swag!

The first award ceremony is one that all teams participate in. It is scheduled the evening after the last round robin game for that age group, and division is complete. During the awards ceremony, the skills competition contestant winners are presented with awards for fastest skater, top goalie, most accurate shooter and best sniper. The main arena lights are turned off while colourful stage lights circle the rink. An announcer calls the award-recipient’s name and a spotlight follows the recipient to center ice, where the award is collected, and a professional group picture is taken.

Following the skills awards comes the All-Star awards. There are three All Star awards presented to a total of 8 players per award. The coaches of the opposing teams watch players during the round robin games and choose the player they believe are worthy of these awards.

Worlds All Star Team – This is the Top All Star recognition award. Each recipient is awarded with a Team World Jersey. All jerseys are numbered “19” for the year.

Honor All Star Team and Pride All Star Team – Each recipient of these two All Star recognition awards are provided with a gift certificate to Hockey Monkey.

The next set of awards are presented immediately following the championship game. All three top teams (gold, silver and bronze medalists) are present for the awards ceremony. But, before the game even starts, the lights are dimmed, colourful stage lights dance along the floor of the rink, music pumps through the speakers overhead and the announcer calls each player to the floor. When the game ends the presentations begin. Medals are awarded; individual awards are provided to the MVP and Top Goalie of the tournament in that age group and division; and each champion is provided with a State Wars Championship hat. The champions are then provided an opportunity to skate around with the cup and the professional photographer takes group photos of each of the finalists. Of course, the infamous and timeless song “We Are the Champions” by Queen plays loudly over the speakers while parents try rounding up their champion for a photo with the cup.

In addition to the swag that the champions receive while still on the rink floor, in the dressing room they are handed more swag, specifically t-shirts and new wheels. The win is well worth the work at this tournament!

 

State Wars Location

Each year the State Wars tournament is held in a different State such as St. Louis, MO; Taylor, MI; and Fort Wayne, IN. This year it was held in Fort Wayne, Indiana. This small city, located a couple hundred kilometers north of Indianapolis, is quite a little gem. Surrounded by lush greenery, historical structures made of brick, walking paths and a local baseball field (hosting the MILB’s TinCaps), Fort Wayne did not disappoint. On non-hockey days, families had many options for entertainment from mini-golf, go-karting, attending the local fair or a TinCaps baseball game (that included fireworks), participating in escape rooms or laser tag. The warm welcome was felt throughout the City as they strategically placed little signs that read “Welcome State Wars” on hotel lawns and various other locations. For Fort Wayne, this was a big event, and for visitors, we felt the warmth of the residents and their appreciation for sport.

Not only did the city itself have many options for visitors, but the arena was the perfect facility for this sport. Three rinks spread across the width of the building and a lounge located upstairs also spreads across the width of the building. Floor to ceiling glass, air-conditioning, a kitchen, a bar and the friendliest serving staff gave all spectators the perfect option for viewing games. If you’re a spectator who prefers to be in the thick of the excitement, noise and all, the viewing areas were decent enough (anyone who has been around their share of rinks, knows that most arenas are not built with spectators in mind) and “BEER” stations strategically placed for those who would like to cool their body temperature and numb their senses to avoid the smell of stinky hockey players. The SportOne/Parkview Icehouse definitely did their part in taking care of players and fans alike.

Walking through the building you will find various booths set up, from engravers, to photo stations, to State Wars swag sales, to roller hockey swag sales, to pin sales. Pin sales are a huge part of the tournament. There are teams from all over the world attending State Wars. States and Provinces of North America are not the only attendees you will see. Teams from France, Sweden, Namibia (yes, Southern Africa), Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Columbia and United Kingdom are some examples of teams you will see at State Wars. Each team has a pin representing their State, Province or Country. Players, siblings and/or parents will spend their days at the tournament trading their team’s pin for another team’s pin. It is a fantastic keepsake and a great way to entertain siblings who may not be participating.

My Personal Experience

My son was part of the 2002 group that managed to finish in the AA division and bring home the Gold. This experience was more than just winning the championship for our family. We watched this 2002 group bond right from the beginning. They did everything together. They played “Chell” in the hotel room on the PS4, they played games in the pool, went go-karting and mini-golfing, ate together, explored the city streets together, watched other games and cheered on the other teams from Alberta, all as a group. As the tournament progressed, so did their friendships. The memory of winning a championship will, of course, always be a lifelong memory, but the friendships will also last a lifetime.

As a parent, I have to say I was pretty spoiled. Not only did I get to cheer for my favourite hockey player, but I also got to watch these friendships form. To add to the great experience, my husband and I also made new friends in the parent group. It makes sense…if a teen group can bond that easily, the parents should probably bond in the same manner, right? We had a few nights of drinks at the courtyard, belly laughing so much that you would swear we just completed a marathon of crunches. We watched the fireworks right above our courtyard patio. We ate together. We cheered together. I feel as though our group of 2002 parents and players came home fully satisfied with the week in Fort Wayne, Indiana.


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