Members of the Richmond Gulls pose
after willing the 2005 Hawaiian Classic
Old-Timer Ice Hockey Tournament.
Held every April since the local league was founded twenty-two years ago, the Hawaiian Classic is a high point of the spring hockey season, pitting locals like Takeuchi, Gorence, Lampman and McAneeley against a globe-spanning roster of former pros, semi-pros and Olympians. And while it’s officially labeled an “old-timers” tournament, that merely means players have to be over thirty—which, granted, is a ripe age in a sport where players are sometimes forced to retire in their twenties with blown knees and broken necks.
The tournament is made up of twelve teams with names like the Arizona Rusty Spurs, Orange Country Blues and, of course, the Hawaiian Ice Hockey Club. Based on skill levels, the teams are then divided into three divisions—Waikiki, Kilauea and Pupukea. Games run straight through from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and the play only stops when the Zamboni comes out to smooth the ice.
All of this—both the league and the tournament—can be traced back to the work of John Beck, another former NHL player and longtime manager of the Ice Palace. I’d arrived last year during the third period of a match between the Hawai‘i B.O.M.B. and the Edmonton Firefighters, right when the fight—“scrum” in hockey language—broke out. No big deal: Hockey wouldn’t be hockey without a little pushing and shoving, but fights at the tournament are more theatrical than physical: Throwing a punch here is a serious infraction, leading to permanent banishment from the league.
A few minutes after watching the B.O.M.B. pull off a five-to-three win over the Firefighters, I stopped Beck to ask his opinion on the hottest player of the tournament.
“That would have to be Wayne Babych,” said Beck, of the former NHL all-star who was forced to take an early retirement in 1987 after a serious shoulder injury. “When we heard he was coming, every team wanted him on their roster.”
Watching Babych play over the next few hours, it was easy to forget that somewhere outside this rink a surfer was no doubt riding another wave and another ice cream cone was melting in the heat. This was hard-core, cold country hockey: The requisite organ music pumped up the crowd (never mind that it was recorded), and even though it was just an exhibition, the competitive intensity was high.
With Babych at the helm, the Richmond Gulls easily took the 2005 tournament. But everybody walked away grinning. After all, in the end it’s really just about having some cool fun.
“In those games at the Ice Palace, none of us is looking to recall any past glory,”says Mike Lampman with a hearty laugh. “No one is looking to slam the other guy into the boards—we’ve all been there and done that, and have different lives now. Even Ted McAneeley has to get up and go to work the next day.” HH
This year’s Hawaiian Classic Old-Timer Hockey Tournament runs from April 23 to 26 at the Ice Palace.