02 Feb East York Bulldogs Winter Classic
To hockey families, nothing is more Canadian than a game of shinny on an outdoor rink. On January 31st, the U13 East York Bulldogs changed it up a bit and turned a scheduled outdoor practice into a fun exhibition game against one of their NYHL opponents, the U13 Victoria Village Blue team.
Every hockey season, East York Select teams are scheduled one evening practice at the local outdoor rink, Dieppe Park. These events are always a little more fun than the standard Sunday morning practice – they’re outside, at night, under the bright lights, usually on a cold winter’s night. Last year, the Bulldogs decided to shake things up and use that outdoor practice as an opportunity to play an exhibition game. They invited the team that had become friends/rivals over the years, Victoria Village. They called it the “Winter Classic” following the lead of the NHL outdoor games held every year. Sadly, COVID had other plans, and the event was cancelled. The inaugural Winter Classic would be delayed… for now.
Fast forward to the 2022-23 season when the Bulldogs were given their outdoor practice ice on January 31st. Bulldog coaches Bryan Benson, Brad Benson, and Darryl MacDonald were on board for another attempt at the Winter Classic. Team manager, Beth Mielniczuk, reached out to the Victoria Village coach, Huw Williams, to gauge their local rivals’ interest. Huw gladly accepted the invite (who’s going to turn down extra ice time, especially under these conditions) and the planning began. The Bulldogs hired two refs and borrowed an electronic scoreboard and hot chocolate dispenser and soon everything was set for a fun night of outdoor hockey.
It was a cold night, but thanks to some well-prepared parents, there were hand warmers for all and bottomless hot chocolate, popcorn, and other snacks for players and spectators alike. After a five minute warm-up, the puck dropped. Victoria Village scored first early, but East York answered with one of their own later in the period. With the score tied after one, the Bulldogs would take the lead in the second. Since the rink didn’t have a penalty box, the teams agreed beforehand that any penalties would result in a chased penalty shot, which came into play when the Bulldogs scored after a tripping call. Another two goals in the third resulted in a final score of 4-1 for the home team.
While the Bulldogs emerged victorious, the reality is that everyone there last night — from the players on the ice, to the parents, siblings, grandparents, and friends who stopped by to show their support — was a winner. Instead of yet another late season practice, the two friendly rivals created memories that will last well beyond that evening, and will hopefully become an annual tradition.
The teams and parents would like to thank Beth for organizing the event and her tireless efforts to make this happen, the coaches who were excited to create a fun evening for their players, the fans who showed up to support the kids, and the stars of the show, the Bulldogs and Victoria Village players, for giving everyone in attendance something to cheer for.