They called the tournament the inaugural Caribbean Coconut Cup and the grand prize was an artfully carved and lacquered Belizean wood-and-coconut trophy.
The program cover described it as an “International Friendly Ball Hockey Tournament.”
And it was indeed friendly — after the games. At Wayo’s or some other fine beachside drinking and socializing establishment.
During the games?
Let’s just say there are some aches and pains to be dealt with today. These teams played for real.
The big draw was the Withrow Park Tropical Knights from Toronto. These guys get together every year and vacation in some exotic, tropic, bucolic, serendipitous place where they play local hockey teams. In other words, they mix a lifelong passion for hockey with new pleasures while forging new friendships.
At this point I know what your are thinking: Local hockey teams? Here in Belize? Here on Ambergris Caye?
You bet your hockey stick, bucko.
Ball hockey has been an island pursuit since 2010 and most every Thursday you can find as many as 20 folks with sticks in hand whacking that red ball up and down a tennis court near the Grand Bayman complex just south of town.
Shouldn’t be surprising. Canadians are well represented in the local expat population and their passion for this game rivals that of New England Patriot fans, Golden Gate Warrior fans, Chicago Cubs fans — to name a few. There are Belizeans and Americans in the local mix too! And two of the toughest goalies you will find are Niki Lamporelli and Dee Regis.
Ball hockey is equal opportunity. If you can swing a stick, run the distance and endure the pain — welcome, brothers and sisters.
On Saturday the Tropical Knights came straight off the plane to play back-to-back games against the San Pedro Buccaneers which split into two teams, Squad 1 and Squad 2, for logistical reasons.
If jet-lag was a strategy, it didn’t work. The formidable Knights swept both teams.
Before the first game the Tropical Knights gained a psychological advantage by audaciously wearing mouth guards, protective glasses and padding. A shocking display of preparation and self-preservation.
The Knights stayed on Boca del Rio, with the highest concentration of bars anywhere in Belize (imaginary statistic which enables the storyline). The next-best hope of the Buccaneers was that the Knights would exhaust themselves by snorkeling, sunburning, and downing Belikins and local rum to excess while partying with the veteran locals.
It almost worked.
On Monday afternoon, Buccaneers Squads 1 & 2 pummeled each other on the San Pedro High School court for the honor of playing the Knights one more time. One by one, the Knights strolled into the arena wearing telltale “island grins,” with a hint of Second degree sunburn here and there.
There was hope.
Except that the Bucs had upped their games so much for the semi-final that fans had to wonder, “Will there be anything left for the final game against the Tropical Knights?”
Buccaneers Squad 2 earned the rights to the Knights. But, man, at what cost?
How they managed we’ll never know, unless one of them writes a tell-all book someday (Ghostwriter available….) The Bucky 2’s played heads-up and tenaciously and even knocked the Knights off-balance for the first half of the game. As one fan noted, their scoring output quadrupled that of both Buccaneer teams on the first night.
Fans were clearly into it, lead in sometimes-unprintable chants — rhymes with Buccaneers — by that rascally bar owner and mad man with a mike, Rob “We call it Crazy Canucks for a reason” Burrows.
In the end, somebody had to win but it really looked the the Tropical Knights earned the Coconut Cup the hard way.
Bucs Squad 2 player Paul DuVille probably sums up the feelings of his compatriots in a Facebook post this morning: “I had a great day… thank you to me mate Vic Murphy & Captain Roger Dey for taking the time to have fun, drink beer, & play hockey. Incredible experience for me. We have formed amazing friendships in a short span of time. Thank you Withrow Park Tropical Knights … The inaugural Caribbean Coconut Cup Champs & you know we want you back in Belize, soon !!!”
In fact, the game was barely over and there was talk of the Knights enticing a few other ball hockey teams to make the trip next year. And then word flew around that there may even be a ball hockey club on the mainland. Maybe an intra-Belize tournament in the works ….
As for fans, maybe only a few could explain the concept of “icing” but they know action-packed, all-out passionate sports play when they see it. Ball hockey gained a lot a fans this day, and maybe a few more players.
Meanwhile, a lifelong resident of Minnesota and great friend, Ruth Guliani Rinehart, who winters in San Pedro marveled, “I had to come all the way to Belize to see my first-ever hockey game!” In Minnesota, ice hockey is the most popular high school sport and hockey has its own state TV program. Ruthie is now a fan.
So is a sizable chunk of San Pedro.
Well done, Buccaneers.
MORE PHOTOS FROM THE INAUGURAL CARIBBEAN COCONUT CUP TOURNAMENT:
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
Tournaments like this don’t happen without a lot of generosity on the part of the community. Here are some of the folks who made the Coconut Cup possible:
San Pedro Town Council — Sports Committee
Belize Tourism Board
San Pedro High School
Caye Coffee Roasting Company
Wayo’s Beach Bar
Carlos & Ernie’s Runway Bar
Lily’s Treasure Chest Restaurant
Island Tackle Bar & Grill
Sandbar Beachfront Hotel & Restaurant
Rob Burrows – Master of ceremonies
Susan Barkhouse –timer/scorekeeper
Paul Locasio & Matt Hoy — referees
Creative Graphic Impressions