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Four-on-four street tournament has big prize

Friday, 02.20.2009 / 11:11 AM / NHL Insider

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

Believe it or not, there is a hockey trophy taller and heavier than the Stanley Cup and those competing for it prefer sneakers over skates.

The Redwood Cup, which stands 49 inches, weighs 63 pounds and is presented to Canada's finest 4-on-4 street hockey team, happens to be that prestigious award.

On Friday, the Cup will be coming home, so to speak, when it arrives on picturesque Riverside Drive in Windsor, Ontario, for the CBC's Hockey Night in Canada Presents Play On! 4-on-4 national street hockey championship. The tournament is held in conjunction with Tim Hortons Hockey Day in Canada celebration.

This year, the Cup will be awarded to one of 16 teams from eight regions around Canada.

"The Redwood Cup has got a prestige about it because it looks fantastic," CBC's Scott Russell told NHL.com. "It doesn't have a huge history behind it because the first one was won in 2005, but not only is it made of Redwood, but it cost $10,000 to manufacture and is plated with sterling silver."

Play On! founder Scott Hill named the trophy after Kingsville's Redwood Road, just outside of Windsor, where he grew up as a kid and where his parents still live. The Redwood Cup, which is 13.75 inches taller and is 28.5 pounds heavier than the Stanley Cup, has also been prominently displayed at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

The tournament, which begins Friday and concludes with the championship tilt at 5 p.m. on Saturday, will require just over a half-mile of the street to be closed off in the downtown area. Competing in this year's National Championship event will be teams from Halifax, Ottawa, Oshawa, London, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Langley, Bedford, Niagara Falls, Prince Albert, Montreal, Gatineau and Burnaby.

"Pond hockey is not only our national winter game, but it's our national obsession," Russell said. "Everybody in the country loves hockey and has a connection to hockey so we play it in various forms. Most of us as kids grew up playing ball hockey. We would get a yellow tennis ball, find an empty street and stick the smallest guy in net so that you could kind of beat him up. It's something that you did from the time you could walk."

Despite the fact the game isn't played on skates, Russell still feels fans will enjoy the spirit of competition and the overall flow of the games.

"It's fast moving 4-on-4 and even though you're not on skates, the dexterity and the speed is fantastic," Russell said. "The guys are from 19 to 35 years old so a lot of them still have their legs and it's really fun to watch."

Russell also knows it's not all fun and games in the heat of battle.

"Street hockey can get kind of rugged," Russell said. "I remember when we played as kids, we played with our bare hands so you could feel the stick. A good way to force a turnover was by slashing a guy on the hands. Today, they play with hockey gloves and the goalies are in full street hockey gear. It could be rugged, but it's also fast-moving and some of the shots are fantastic."

The tournament is also a way for many players to escape reality for two days and live out some childhood dreams.

"What's neat about this is that it's a celebration of hockey in a North American place that's kind of getting hit hard by the economy right now," Russell said. "General Motors in Detroit is going through tough times right now and one of the teams entered has a group of guys from Oshawa, who work at the General Motors plant in Ontario. This is almost therapeutic for those boys."

The tournament, which is held every two years and will crown its third champion this year, will include defending champion Montreal Royale of Oshawa. During the qualifying rounds of the eight regional tournaments, as many as 80,000 players and spectators took in all the action.

"The kids in the cities across the U.S. play basketball on asphalt and Canadians play road hockey," Russell said. "We always called it road hockey, although they call it ball hockey as well. You play on the road and when your mom or dad returned home from work, you'd call 'Car' and would move the nets and after the car went by, reset the nets and keep playing. Everyone did it in Canada and this tournament is a celebration of that."

Russell knows once the championship game is set, players from both sides will revert to those imaginary games as a youngster.

"I'm sure they'll play it up like it's the Stanley Cup where one team takes on the persona of the Red Wings and the other, the Calgary Flames," Russell said. "That's what you did as a kid. Scott Hill once said that ball hockey is a game of imagination, and he's right."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com.


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