ROAD TO PYEONGCHANG 2018
by Bryan Boyes
Head Equipment Manager, Oshawa Generals
The Winter Olympics are held for a three-week period of time in the month of February every four years. Little do people know, the journey for Hockey Canada, staff and players, begins much sooner than you may think.
The call came in June 2017 from Oshawa Generals owner Rocco Tullio. I was attending the PHATS/SPHEM annual meeting when Rocco got a hold of me, and let me know that Hockey Canada would like me to be one of the Equipment Managers for the 2018 Olympic Team. With the NHL not taking part in the Olympics this time around, this is the first time in my career an Olympic opportunity was presented to me. With full support of ownership and management this was the beginning of my journey to PyeongChang.
The first tournament of the Olympic schedule for Hockey Canada began as early as August. I headed to Sochi, Russia for the Sochi Open with the Hockey Canada staff and 25 Olympic roster hopefuls. Here the team took part in a weeklong tournament, hosted in the building Canada won Gold in during the Sochi 2014 Winter Games. Canada would be victorious in two of their three games in the tournament. It was a great moment for everyone to start the journey where the men?s team last captured gold at the Winter Olympics.
August in Sochi is a lot hotter than you may expect. Every day the weather was around 95 degrees, creating some challenges around the rink. The ice was soft; drying the equipment became tough in the humidity; presenting the challenge as equipment managers for us to deal with these situations while still having everything prepared for the team come game time. Following our time in Sochi, we made the 2000 km trip north to St. Petersburg, Russia. Once here, we were met with 25 new players to take part in the Tournament of Nikolai Puchkov. Again, Canada came out ahead in two of the three games we played during the tournament. Eventually, players from both tournaments would make the final Olympic roster, as these two tournaments were the first looks at the Canadian Olympic hopefuls
After the time in Russia in August, I returned to Oshawa for training camp and the beginning of our season. Early November rolled around and my next duties with Hockey Canada were calling. The Karjala Cup in Switzerland and Finland saw us head to Europe for another 10 days. Our first stop was in Zurich, Switzerland for one game of the tournament. From here, we moved on to Finland for the final two games. This tournament we didn?t fair as well, winning only one of the three games.
What most people might not know is Hockey Canada has various sets of equipment trunks that rotate through the tournaments and are always ready and waiting when we arrive. We have two different sets we were rotating through. The equipment we used in Switzerland would not be the same equipment waiting for us in Finland. Although not the very same gear, each set of seven trunks had identical equipment inside for us to use.
As we continue through the tournaments leading up to PyeongChang, the equipment would always be at our next destination ready for our arrival. All of the coordination of the equipment getting from each tournament to the next fell under Robin McDonald, Hockey Canada?s full time Equipment Manager. Getting the equipment to each tournament is not an easy job.
He would look after the logistics of shipping everything, dealing with international paperwork and customs, the storing of the gear until our arrival and all the other demanding work behind the scenes to ensure the players and equipment managers had everything we needed when we arrived. It made my job easier and was a wonderful opportunity for myself to have the pleasure of working with someone as dedicated and committed to his field of work as Robin.
Leading into December, I left my junior team for another trip to Europe. The destination this time around was the Channel One Cup in Moscow, Russia. This tournament took place over a ten- day period that would lead into the upcoming Spengler Cup the week following. Here we played a total of three games, getting the victory in two. In our final game against Russia, it had the atmosphere of a late round playoff game. True to any Canada vs. Russia game, the play was hard and emotional with both teams wanting to come out on top. Ultimately we would fall to Russia, leading to the want for redemption should we meet them again in Olympic competition.
Before the next tournament I had four days off before I would be scheduled to arrive in Switzerland. My plan was a quick vacation to Rome as there was not enough time to travel back home between tournaments. On my way to the airport in Moscow to catch my flight to Italy, I ran into my first challenge of international travel. I had taken an Uber to the airport and the driver decided he wanted to keep my luggage. At the airport, my bags were now his until I paid a small amount of ransom to get my luggage returned. After that bump in the road was sorted and caught my flight, I enjoyed four days in Rome with my wife Mary-Anne site seeing before the next leg of the Olympic journey.
The Spengler Cup was held in Davos, Switzerland. The annual tournament held over ten days during the holiday season, is a style of tournament I had never experienced before. The unique setting, the unbelievable atmosphere and strong family feel is a welcome change to many other Canadian teams I have been apart of. This tournament was the final leg before Hockey Canada named its Olympic roster and was a tournament we wanted to have a good showing in. We won both our preliminary games, sending us straight to the semi-finals. In the semi?s we beat Mountfield HK to head to the finals. The finals saw us take on the host country Switzerland, where we came out victorious and claiming the Gold medal and the Spengler Cup.
This win I got to share with two former Oshawa Generals players in Christian Thomas and Will Petschenig. The Spengler Cup win is the first of my tenure over the years with Hockey Canada. With this tournament now in the books, next up is pre-tournament play for PyeongChang.
Mid-January 2018, the final Olympic roster had been named and all the details were falling into place with the Winter Games under a month away. Late January, the staff and players would meet in Riga, Latvia to begin exhibition play and start the final, most important leg of the journey that we all have been working towards since August. We would play two-exhibition game in Latvia that didn?t come without their challenges. While playing internationally, it is not as easy to find equipment or tools you may need as it would be at your home rink. You cannot just run out and get what you are missing, it usually requires it being flown in. Countries are also very strict with customs and materials coming into their country occasionally creating bigger problems. These are the issues we have to adapt and plan for while working for Hockey Canada and in an international environment. We did at one point have an equipment emergency and need something flown in. Robin found a company in Finland that could provide what we needed and had it there in a 24- hour period. In this case the situation worked in our favor, but sometimes it does not run as smoothly when you are in similar situations internationally.
We now are making the final trip to South Korea. Here we immediately moved into the Athlete?s Village. Soon after moving in, we practiced in our new home in PyeongChang before we headed out to Seoul for pre-competition game against Sweden. We stayed in Seoul for a couple days leading up to this game. Interestingly enough in Seoul, we experience a very interesting dressing room set up. Our room was housed outside the arena in a separate building and we would have to walk to and from the dressing room building and the arena between periods.
This was something new and again a new challenge to face in international play. After the win against Sweden, we would return to the Athlete?s Village and Olympic play would begin.
In the Athlete?s Village, I roomed with two of our other Hockey Canada staff members in a three-bedroom, apartment style accommodations. While staying in the heart of the Olympics in the Athlete?s Village you were completely immersed in the Olympic atmosphere, even the TV channels only had Olympic coverage. Everyone was decked out in their country clothing and you didn?t pass by someone in Canadian apparel without saying a hello. Everyone ate in a large dining hall that would be roughly the size of an arena-playing surface. While here, you would look for fellow Canadians and take a seat at the table with them. In true Canadian fashion, conversations would come easy and new friends would be made. I ate breakfast many mornings with Canadian athletes from various sports. Each day you would be
in amongst athletes with medals around their neck and showing their country pride. Olympic Park was about a 10-minute drive from the village, with shuttles available to take you there. All venues and areas were highly secure with security checks every time you were coming and going from different venues. On a day off, I was able to take in the event of Mixed Doubles Curling, seeing the Gold Medal match of Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris bring home the Gold for Canada. Although I didn?t have much free time, it was great to see other Canadian athletes in action.
Men?s Hockey was now beginning and the real work began. We had a practice rink we would sometimes be in but regularly were in the main arena. The dressing room we were given was ours from start to finish. There are many logistical details brought by Hockey Canada to make the room feel like our home. From the history of the team down to the mats on the floor, it truly felt like a home dressing room thousands of miles away from Canada. Slowly, you would get to know the other teams. Each day you would see other teams staff and equipment managers in passing. Anything you may need or questions you may have, teams would help each other out. You were competing against each other but would never be left high and dry if you were in need.
The tournament gets busy and very quickly. Games come close together in a short tournament like the Olympics and are always met with high pressure. We did well in the Preliminary Round, getting a birth into the Quarterfinal. In a must win situation, we beat Finland to move on to the Semi-finals. After a hard fought battle, our chance for Gold fell short as Germany beat us by the narrow margin of 4-3, putting us into the Bronze Medal game. Here we would emerge as the Bronze Medal Champions and I could add an Olympic Medal to my accomplishments with Hockey Canada.
After the completion of our games, it was towards the end of the Olympics as a whole. I spent some time in Canada House where you would meet Canadian?s from all over the world or bump into someone who you maybe crossed paths with before. Athlete?s and families were at Canada House in the name of celebration and one night the band the Arkells took the stage. Food and drinks were plenty, intermittent with medal celebrations and Canadians celebrating the success of the games. It was a great way to close out the Olympic experience and reflect on the last seven months getting to this moment.
The whole Olympic experience is something I am glad I had to opportunity to be apart of. There is no greater feeling then representing your country and sharing the pride of Canadians. The journey may have started back in August, but every moment was worthwhile as Hockey Canada captured Olympic Bronze.
I can?t thank Hockey Canada enough for this opportunity and experience. I am forever grateful you chose me to take on the Equipment Manager role and be apart of this team. I have learned new things, taken part in experiences I will never forget, and cannot wait for the next opportunity I get to don the Canadian colors while representing my country.