June 11, 2024 at 12:00 a.m.

Rare opportunity still came with guilt

Parental Ponderings

By Chris Schanz

The funny thing with being a first-time parent is wanting to spend every waking moment with your child.

You don’t want to miss a smile, a laugh or a new milestone.

Alas, sometimes, as parents, we need a reprieve. That’s where the “village” comes in.

A couple weeks ago when Indiana was hosting The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, my wife and I got a break from parenthood for a once-in-a-lifetime experience; the Canadian Hockey League’s Memorial Cup tournament.

The Memorial Cup is a four-team, round-robin tournament for the three Canadian junior hockey leagues. It is arguably one of the toughest junior hockey trophies to win based on the sheer fact there are 60 CHL franchises and the timeframe for its players is limited (only players aged 15 to 20 are eligible).

The tournament pits the champions from the CHL’s three leagues (Western Hockey League, Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League and Ontario Hockey League) as well as the host city. My hometown team, the Saginaw Spirit, have been an OHL team since 2002 and have never won its league. But in March 2023, the Spirit won the right to host the tournament.

It’s the first time the tournament was to be held in the United States since it was played in Spokane, Washington, in 1998. 

Despite its name, nine of the 60 CHL teams are based in the U.S., so Saginaw being picked to host the city is a tremendous opportunity for the area.

When it was announced Saginaw was going to host, I was ecstatic. As a more-than-casual hockey fan, I was stoked for the opportunity to watch such a momentous tournament. That opportunity was put in jeopardy once we became pregnant and realized our child would be two months old when the tournament began.

The likelihood of us being able to go was fleeting. 

With a stroke of luck — free tickets from my employer as it is a season-long sponsor of the team and the aforementioned village which came through to babysit — we were able to escape for a night to watch the highest level of junior hockey in the world.

Our sitter(s) came over a couple hours before the game started so we could make the 6.1-mile drive downtown to experience the Fan Fest surrounding the tournament and then watch the opening game of the tournament — our Spirit against the WHL champion Moose Jaw (Saskatchewan) Warriors.

We parked, got into the Fan Fest area and probably spent too much money on merchandise. I may never get the chance to go to the Memorial Cup again, so I wanted to commemorate this occasion by buying a hat, a shirt and a Spirit flag to add to my garage collection.

While walking around the outdoor event, it was awesome to see fans from across the CHL, donning sweaters (the slang term for a hockey jersey) from teams I’ve never heard of before.

We entered Dow Event Center in time to get to our seats before puck drop and the pregame ceremonies, which included both the Canadian and U.S. national anthems. 

The night got off to a hot start for the host team and its fans. A Nic Sima goal put the Spirit up 1-0 in the first period, and that score held until the hosts ripped off three more goals in the second period for a 4-0 lead. But within a span of 95 seconds late in the second, Moose Jaw scored three goals.

One goal from each side in the final 20 minutes led to the eventual 5-4 Saginaw win, a huge accomplishment for a team making its Memorial Cup debut although it didn’t win its league.

The atmosphere was electric. I loved the opportunity to experience the Memorial Cup and (finally) see our hometown team play for the first time this year. 

Ten days later, the Spirit completed an improbable run and hoisted the Memorial Cup as tournament champions.

The entire time, though, part of our minds and hearts were not in the arena with us, but back home with our 9-week-old child. We constantly got updates as to how she was doing (sleeping like a rock) and were notified when she fed and got a visit from her oldest cousin, my niece Taylor.

It was wonderful for Chrissy and I to have a night out for such a rare opportunity. And although we got to experience history for both the CHL and my hometown, guilt made us rush home afterward to be with our baby.

••••••••••

Chris Schanz is a former CR Sports Editor embarking on a new journey as a father. You can reach him at [email protected].


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