Fans, media embrace Cayman beach boys

The Cayman Islands ice hockey team, Cayman Breakaway, arrived in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, Canada last Friday with a goal to make the 2005 World Pond Hockey Championships final playoff round on Sunday. The goal looked very real after their perfect Friday night start with two wins in two games on the 24 outdoor rink venue on Roulstone Lake. Temperatures were a balmy -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Farenheight) as 384 players from 96 teams played under the lights.

The weekend tournament started auspiciously for the Breakaway as they were asked to lead the opening parade of teams.

Approximately 400 townspeople, or one-third of the town, volunteered to help at the tournament while the remainder came out to cheer on the players.

With the cancellation of the NHL professional hockey season, and with the inclusion of The Cayman Breakaway and London (England) Racers to the Pond Hockey Championships, there were almost as many media present for this event as the town’s population of 1,200. The media included major US TV networks ABC, NBC, ESPN, the major Canadian TV and radio networks CBC, CTV, TSN, local TV network WAGM-TV, print media Sports Illustrated, NY Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Toronto Star, The Globe & Mail, and many string and freelance reporters. The ABC crew actually slept and ate in the same private lodge to obtain more background information on the Cayman team as they followed the Breakaway through the tourney. TSN made the tournament their anchor site for their daylong coverage of hockey events across Canada, and interviewed the Cayman Breakaway in one of their featured segments. Not to be outdone, ESPN will have an interview with the Breakaway on their upcoming ‘Timeless’ Special.

Once the parade and welcoming speeches were made, and the national anthems were played, including ‘Beloved Isle Cayman’, it was time to get down to business. The Cayman team of Marty Goschl, Norm Klein, Bill Messer, and Joe Stasiuk opened up with a hard fought 18-12 win over the entry from Peterborough, Ontario, Canada and then walked away with a 29-2 win over one of the local Plaster Rock teams.

‘We knew we had to come out and play tough early,’ said Captain Bill Messer. ‘We had some idea of what to expect because we had been training at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon for this format, but you simply cannot prepare for pond hockey conditions in a normal ice hockey rink. The cold, the major cracks and ruts in the ice, and playing under the limited lighting, presents every team with a challenging environment. However, once the puck was dropped, both teams are faced with the same situation.’

Messer continued, ‘Peterborough scored a couple of quick goals on us, but our team immediately rallied and took it to them. By halftime we were tied and our high fitness levels began to show through as we opened up and kept the lead through the end of the 30-minute session. I am very proud of the way our team toughed it out and came out on top. That determination certainly carried over and helped us win handily in the last game of the night against Plaster Rock.’

While both of Cayman’s first two opposition teams were disappointed in their losses, their spirits were quickly lifted by individual gifts of Tortuga rum and rumcakes.

After the Friday night session was over, the Cayman Breakaway was in first place and the local buzz in the beer tent began to circulate that these ‘beach boys can play’.

After their games, the Cayman Team took time out to speak with the media but made even more time for the local and visiting spectators. During the tournament weekend, more than 6,000 spectators watched the games while millions watched the live TSN telecast.

Joe Stasiuk added, ‘Because of the inordinate amount of North American pre-press coverage we received, and especially the nationwide interview we did with CBC-TV last week, The Cayman Breakaway helped Plaster Rock become the center of the hockey universe for this past weekend. That honor was not lost on the locals, as this tournament is the major fundraiser for their new recreation centre and ice rink. The groundswell of support from the local townspeople was incredible and we could barely go past someone without being thanked or being hugged and asked for autographs. I’m pretty sure Marty (Goschl) knows the first name of every person from Plaster Rock as well as many of the out-of-town visitors.’

Unfortunately for the Breakaway, Saturday morning’s hockey sessions were not as warm as the town’s reception. The Cayman team fell to one of the talented Toronto teams (20-14) in the opening game and faced an Ottawa team immediately afterward. In the Ottawa game, Cayman Breakaway was down 10-6 at the half but battled back to tie it at 12-12. Ottawa ended up winning 14-12 in a heartbreaker for the Cayman Islanders.

‘We let a game get away that we should have won,’ Norm Klein observed. ‘We missed many scoring chances because of blocked shots. Tournament rules state that players may not wear goalie equipment, yet one of the Ottawa players wore goalie skates and played in front of the net for most of the game, which is not allowed. Some of the other teams in our division were faced with the same situation and brought it to the attention of the organizers, who put a stop to the tactic. I know we were frustrated they played a defensive strategy that flouted the rules rather than playing the offensive freewheeling style of traditional pond hockey.’

Now with a 2-2 record, The Breakaway faced the formidable team from Fredericton, New Brunswick. This same team had gone to the final four and final eight in preceding years and their talent certainly showed through against Cayman. By halftime the Breakaway were down 14-6 and with some mercy shown by the Fredericton entry ended up on the losing end, 22-12.

Their record of 2-3 was disappointing to the team, and they ended up not making the playoff round of 32 teams. The Breakaway would have qualified with a record of 3-2.

One of the tournament organizers, Derek Briggs, was more upbeat about the Cayman Breakaway effort in their first year to the tourney. He noted, ‘Teams usually require at least one year of experience to figure out how to optimize their playing system and get to the next level. The Cayman Breakaway should be very proud of their efforts, and especially to have won two games in their first year. Next year we expect they will come even better prepared and progress further in the tourney.’

While the Cayman Breakaway were officially out of the 2005 tourney, as sports ambassadors for the Cayman Islands, they showed up for the playoff games on Sunday and cheered on the remaining teams. In the Championship Game, the Boston Danglers won again to become the only two-time winner. Afterward they were presented with a full-size wooden replica of the Stanley Cup as well as miniature wooden replicas for each player. They were also given Tortuga rumcakes and drank Tortuga rum out of their cups in their victory celebration.

‘The Cayman Breakaway was honored to represent the Cayman Islands at these World Championships,’ Marty Goschl said. ‘The event was a true testament to the volunteer spirit of the local town and the enthusiasm of the athletes to compete in a classic sports event. We have already been invited for next year’s event, and I trust that reflects on the manner in which we both played and conducted ourselves off the ice. We are already planning how we will step up our training program to get ourselves into the playoff round. Finally we wish to thank the tremendous support we have received from our sponsors including the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, SPEEDO, Cayman Airways, and Tortuga Rums and Rumcakes.’