If the members of the Colorado Avalanche Pee Wee hockey team need any inspiration during the 49th Annual Quebec International Pee Wee Hockey tournament (Feb. 14-24), they need to look no further than a player on their sponsoring club.
Avalanche rookie T.J. Hensick not only played in the tournament when he was a Pee Wee; his team actually won the much-celebrated event.
Each year the tournament hosts 110 teams from 14 countries and is known world-wide as one of the largest and most prestigious Pee Wee hockey tournaments. The tournament has hosted players that developed into NHL stars including Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy, Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky.
This year’s representatives, the Littleton Hawks Pee Wee AA squad coached by Rick Boh, earned this unique opportunity by winning the Colorado Avalanche Quebec Qualifier Tournament in November 2007. “The Greatest Experience of My Youth Hockey Career”
The year was 1999 and Hensick, a Lansing, Mich., native, was skating with Detroit-based Honeybaked of the MidWest Elite Hockey League. Hensick’s team earned the right to enter the Quebec tournament – and represent the Detroit Red Wings in the process – by having the league’s best record through a predetermined point in their season.
Just like this year’s participants, Hensick wore the jersey of his local NHL team, stayed with a billet family during the tournament and was introduced, along with his teammates, to many different cultures during his time in Quebec City.
Hensick’s Honeybaked team was loaded with talent, as evidenced by the fact that nearly half of the squad would go on to play Division I college hockey. Included in that group were good friend, former roommate and fellow University of Michigan Wolverine Matt Hunwick
, Josh Sciba (Notre Dame), Ryan Mahrle (Western Michigan), Alex Spezia (Ferris State) and Ryan Maki (Harvard).
The combination of the camaraderie among his teammates, the cultural experience and playing the game he loved in front of thousands of animated fans led Hensick to label the experience as the greatest of his youth hockey career.Overcoming Adversity
While it’s easy to enjoy playing the game when your team is having success, it can be an entirely different experience when your team isn’t winning. The difference between a good team and a great team is how they deal with adversity.
Playing in the “AA” class – the highest class at the event – Hensick and his teammates immediately lost their opening match-up, but showed great perseverance by bouncing back.
“We actually lost our first game and then ran the table for the rest of the tournament,” said Hensick. “Because of the bracket we were in, you could lose your first game and still win the tournament. Our rivals at the time were the Chicago Young Americans. In the first game we lost to a team we should have beat and ended up playing Chicago in the second game. Nobody anticipated us meeting up, but we won 2-1 in an overtime thriller.”
Honeybaked won the American Cup and then went on to play in the National Cup, setting up a match-up with a squad from Moscow in the tournament’s finale.Parlez-vous francais?
When asked if he remembers anything about his performance from the tournament, Hensick humbly admits that he was named the Most Valuable Player of the event. There’s little doubt that his performance in the championship game played a large part in him receiving the honor, as Hensick scored two of his team’s four goals in Honeybaked’s victory.
But Hensick wasn’t able to celebrate his individual accomplishment, mostly because he didn’t know the honor had been bestowed upon him.
“At the time I had no idea I was the MVP because all of the announcements were in French,” said Hensick. “I had French class when I got back and my teacher told me I was the MVP.”
Maybe the prize he received should have clued him in.
“I got a bike for being MVP, but couldn’t even take it back because we had flown there,” said the 5-foot-10, 185-pound center. “I didn’t want to ship it, so I gave the bike to my billet family.”Take it from an Expert
Hensick hopes that this year’s Avalanche Pee Wee hockey team can benefit in some way from his experience at the tournament. If the squad can learn something about perseverance after hearing his story, the mission has been accomplished.
He also offered up a few words of advice for the team, which officially begins tournament play on Saturday (Feb. 16).
“Besides the hockey, take in everything you can. Have fun with it. It’s a great cultural experience and you’ll be playing in front of thousands of people,” Hensick said. “Good luck, have some fun with it and take it one day at a time. If you work hard, you never know what can happen.”