From GT Snow Racers to watching Donald Duck, IceCaps recall favourite Christmas pastimes
By Don Power
Director of Communications
Everybody has that special Christmas memory – one particular year when you received that extra special gift, a relative was home for a rare holiday season visit, or you started a tradition that lasts to this day.
Members of the St. John’s IceCaps are no different. Though they come from all parts of the globe, Christmas is still a special time for these young hockey players. Their memories range from the simple things such as wrapping paper being torn off presents and flying across the living room in a mad state of excitement to placing the milk and cookies near the tree for Santa. They recall the anticipation of waiting for that final gift, hoping beyond hope that Santa answered the request.
“I think when I was a kid I was using wooden sticks until I was 10 or 11,” Eric O’Dell recalled. “Santa got me the composite stick one year and I was pretty happy about that.”
Like O’Dell’s, more often than not, that request was answered. For a lot of the IceCaps though, the memories aren’t material as much as they involve family, or, of course, hockey.
Jake Marto has one such memory. The 25-year-old defenceman played four seasons at the University of North Dakota, in his hometown of Grand Forks. So when teammates would start their travel home, Marto would, too, except his journey was a short one.
“Playing in my hometown in Grand Forks and being at the University of North Dakota is pretty special,” Marto said. “It’s better than any gift – being at home and having family and friends to celebrate with. You say good-bye to teammates and hope they have a good Christmas and then getting to stay in Grand Forks. I’d skate with my old high school team. Staying with family and friends is pretty special and way better than a gift, I think.”
Carl Klingberg’s Christmas memories don’t involve presents either. His Christmas focuses around an American institution that engulfs the entire country of Sweden on Christmas Eve.
“We have a tradition in Sweden,” Klingberg said the day before he was recalled to Winnipeg on Nov. 30. “At 3 p.m. (on Christmas Eve) we always watch Donald Duck. I think the whole population is doing that. We have like five million viewers out of nine million people. We all watch that at 3 p.m. It’s a great Swedish tradition.”
When Christmas memories included gifts though, they are typical of modern life. Whether it’s a Nintendo(Travis Ramsey) or X-Box (Ben Chiarot), electronics are always popular.
“It was a surprise, because we didn’t think we’d get something that great, said Ramsey, who grew up in Lakewood, California. “But we had to go to Grandma’s house right after we opened it, so we didn’t get home till 6:00. I remember it was terrible having to wait all day to get home to play the video game. But it was the best gift I ever had.”
For many IceCaps, hockey played a prominent role.
Whether it’s Marco Rosa playing in a large pee wee tournament in Quebec or Eric O’Dell’s participation in a tournament in his hometown of Ottawa, the memories are strong – and they don’t always involve games.
“You always remember the good times in the hotel with the other kids,” said defenceman Kyle Bushee, “playing mini-sticks in the hall, ball hockey, breaking things and getting in trouble. There wasn’t one tournament I remember where we won or anything, but just the good times with my teammates and my buddies.”
Shawn Weller remembers tournaments too, but his teams were a bit more successful.
“When I was a sophomore in high school,” said Weller, who hails from upstate New York, “there was always a holiday tournament for the high school teams in the Glens Falls Civic Centre, where the Adirondack Red Wings use to play.
“I don’t think our high school ever won the Grandstanders Holiday Tournament (before I played). We won both games and won the tournament, so that’s a good memory for me.”
Perhaps the best known Christmas tournament in Canada is the world junior tournament, featuring the best under-20 players from the top hockey countries.
Klingberg and Patrice Cormier have both played in the world juniors, twice.
“Obviously the world juniors when you think about Christmastime,” said Cormier, who calls New Brunswick home. “I spent two years of Christmas at the tournament. For me now, the first thing I think about is the world juniors. My family was there. It was a short Christmas – we played on Dec. 26 both years. It was an amazing time. Every time I think about it, it brings a smile to my face.
Klingberg also spent two seasons at the world juniors, and although he missed his family at Christmas, celebrating with teammates was the next best thing.
“It’s been in Canada both years and it’s been awesome to be here and celebrate Christmas with a team,” he said.